Saturday, 13 April 2013

Albums for Life: 23: Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates

She was pregnant in May
Now they're on their way
Dashing through the snow
To St. John's, here we go
Well, it could be a boy
But it's okay if he's girl
Oh, these things that grow out of
The things that we give
We should move to the west side
They still believe in things
That give a kid half a chance
When he pulled off the road
Step in a waltz of ted moon-beams
Said he fit an APB
A robbery nearby
And he go for his wallet
And they thought he was going for a gun
And the cops blew Bird away
Some kids like watching Saturday cartoons
Some girls listen to records all day in their rooms
But what do birds leave behind, of the wings that they came with
If a son's in a tree building model planes?

Once I'd discovered Tom Waits in the late 70s the world of music seemed to open up to me: the ragged roots of Americana, The Blues, trad' and modern Jazz, Tin Pan balladry. I was also aware of Ms Jones through her connection with Waits, indeed by her shadowy presence on the cover of 'Foreign Affairs'. I'd heard 'Chuck E's in Love' but was unprepared for the dramas that lay within 1981's 'Pirates'. The album was her reaction to the break up with Tom.

Bolstered by winning the Grammy for 'Best New Artist' in 1980 she moved to New York City and set up home with Sal Bernadi who was to become her collaborator on this album which, although she recorded it in North Hollywood, had the influence of the Big Apple all over it. Broadway, bebop, R&B, straight pop; the range of influences from Bernstein to Springsteen made for an exotic pot pourri, the cast of colourful characters (c*nt finger Louie anyone?) giving the whole thing an almost cinematic quality. Nick DeCaro's orchestrations are centre stage to the proceedings, adding drama and romance; the rhythm sections strut and stutter in their various guises as Chuck Rainey's bass playing is brilliantly underpinned by drumming heavyweights Steve Gadd, Art Rodriguez and Victor Feldman. David Sandborn and Randy Brecker add horns to the glorious soup whilst Steely Dan's Becker and Fagen seem to haunt the grooves but never in that cold and clinical Dan detached way; the playing is top notch throughout but never overpowers the wonderful songs. 
There were but eight. Count 'em:

'We Belong Together' was a direct lament to Wait's loss. 
'Living it Up' features 'Zero' a victim of teenage domestic violence.
'Skeletons' is based on the true story of mistaken identity; a man killed by LS police whilst taking his pregnant wife to the hospital.
'Wood and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking': a tribute to 1950s R&B icons.
'Pirates' is another ode to Waits.
'A Lucky Guy': More Wait's wailing: "he's a lucky guy. He doesn't worry about me when I'm gone."
'Traces of the Western Slopes': an 8 minute paean to bohemian life.
'The Returns' sees the album out with a gentle piano ballad.

In the early 80s this was the most sophisticated music I owned; it made me want to be elsewhere. 
I wasn't sure where that was but knew that I'd be traveling there in a striped t shirt, a beret and that the air would be thick with the smoke of clove cigarettes.

Whenever I compose these things I like to immerse myself in the album I'm writing about. 
I couldn't find 'Pirates' this morning so accessed the tracks from a fantastic 3 CD compilation 
'Duchess of Coolsville' which I heartily recommend; great notes, songs presented alphabetically as it skips effortlessly between the decades, proving how timelessly contemporary and consistently challenging the woman's work is. 
You can buy 'Duchess of Coolsville' here.
If you'd prefer 'Pirates' as an entity you can get it here as part of Rhino's 'Album Series'; a no frills pack of 5 original albums for just over a tenner.
Meanwhile, here are the first 3 tracks from 'Pirates'. 
Once you start I'd be surprised if you don't finish the selections. 
I've followed Rickie Lee's version of 'Skeletons' with a take by an anonymous short tongued gent which is stunning in its heartbreaking simplicity...


  1. it's funny how familiar this sounds although I haven't heard any of these, or any other Rickie Lee Jones for many years. I may take your advice on the compilation. My wife is a fan but we have none of the records.

    1. It's a wonderful compilation Seamus; 2 CDs chock full of prime cuts and a 3rd CD of demos, rare and live stuff that is all fabulous; no dredging here; the quality is brilliant. Rickie Lee's integrity is undiminished; I didn't mush like her last covers album but at least she continues to challenge herself and her audience.

  2. Pirates, is an album that I still listen to quite regularily, as I have since it was first released.
    Rickie's style is absolutely unmatched, and her voice is an incredible instrument.
    Thanks for posting this and for your wonderful writing.
    That short tongued gent:)
    Yes, thanks for the kindness, of course!

  3. John, I'm assuming that's you from your YouTube moniker.
    Thanks for writing, glad that you are no longer 'Anonymous'.
    I had that the 'short tongued' didn't offend; my brother has a similar style and I love him...
    Me? As anyone who possesses any of my records will tell you, I have whistling teeth. Integrity is the 'style' that comes from us unintentionally.
    Long may you sing, sir.

  4. VaporFi is the most recommended electronic cigarettes supplier.