Review: Balm in Gilead by Rickie Lee Jones

Rickie Lee Jones has mellowed with age, which is not to suggest that her inner fire burns any less brightly–in fact, Balm in Gilead shows it’s burning brighter than ever. A collection of songs written throughout her career, save for one by her father, this moving and resonant album carries the wisdom and weight of experience. Exit the beret-wearing, slang-slinging boho; enter the reflective, desert-wandering searcher.

In typical Jones style, the music is largely unclassifiable, with influences that skip among jazz, country, soul, folk, and gospel. But by and large, there’s a less jazzy and more rootsy feel here, with guest artists–such as Alison Krauss, Vic Chesnutt, Victoria Williams, Bill Frisell, and Ben Harper–who add burnished colors to this rustic palette. Jones flirts with country in “Remember Me,” steeps herself in gospel on “His Jeweled Floor,” and dives into cool soul on “The Gospel of Carlos, Norman and Smith.”

Lyrically, Jones has a lot on her mind, from her daughter’s coming of age to her own coming of a certain age. Amid the reverent gospel thrum of “His Jeweled Floor,” she vows to “sit shiva at your grave,” and on the following “Eucalyptus Trail” she laments that “all my old friends have gone underground.” Brave and bold as ever, she exudes not self-pity but awe and wonder as she forges ahead, ultimately to join them.

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