Rickie Lee Jones Balm in Gilead Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

The 11 tracks on Balm in Gilead tie up loose ends.

Barney Hoskyns 2009

Rickie Lee Jones is a jackdaw and a rootless musical wanderer. Each new album finds her conceptually in a different place, usually on a different label with (a) different collaborator(s). On Balm in Gilead, however, it's as if she's come home to the American music forms that truly anchor her wayward talent – especially after the hit-and-miss improvisations of The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard (2007).

Balm… has the satisfying cohesion and soulfulness of The Evening of My Best Day (2003), the last album Jones made with guitarist-producer David Kalish. It also has the feel of a scrapbook or family album, collecting favourite genres from soul to gospel via country and even including The Moon is Made of Gold, a dreamy piece of Leon-Redbone-ish whimsy penned decades ago by Rickie's vaudeville-performing dad Richard.

Sassy finger-popping opener Wild Girl was originally written for Flying Cowboys (1989) but could have been on RLJ's eponymous Warners debut a decade before that. Old Enough is retro rock'n'soul, Womack & Womack meets Chocolate Genius, with a divine duetting vocal from Ben Harper. Remember Me is a Nashville waltz, Jones' vocal a dead-ringer for Emmylou Harris and the song's structure faintly echoing the Flying Burritos' Sin City; the shimmering, ambient gospel of His Jewelled Floor recalls Emmy's work with Daniel Lanois (Wrecking Ball) and Malcolm Burn (Red Dirt Girl). The general production feel of the album is textured Americana, Mitchell Froom meets T-Bone Burnett.

Eucalyptus Trail starts with a touch of Thomas Newman piano, turning into a drifting meditation on loss and loneliness that fleetingly recalls the quieter passages of Weasel and the White Boys Cool. The most recent song, the acoustic Bonfires, makes one think of the inconsolable ballads Rickie wrote after Tom Waits broke her heart in 1979. Lolo (…Carlos, Norman & Smith) salutes Black Power icons John Carlos and Tommie Smith. The House on Bayless Street, complete with comforting dobro fills, could hail from an Alison Krauss album.

Written over a period of 22 years, the 11 tracks on Balm in Gilead tie up loose ends, its title heavily implying healing at work.

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