Latitude 2009

Rickie Lee Jones and Seasick Steve

John Mulvey

At some point in the last few years, Rickie Lee Jones appears to have subtly evolved from the Duchess Of Coolsville into a spiritual, raging poet-figure who comes across like a West Coast counterpart of Patti Smith.

This is how she turns up at Latitude, after having just written a new song with her two bandmates in the car park. The lyrics aren't up to much, to be much, but like so much of Jones' current act, it has this unravelling, devotional quality that makes even inanities about the lake and people dressed as cats seem transcendent.

The devotional aspect of these songs, many from this year's superb "The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard", comes in part from her born-again faith, most evident in a song like "Gethsemane". But for heathens like me, these intense songspiels have a hypnotic power that's akin to Van Morrison circa "Astral Weeks" or Patti Smith, particukarly songs like "Beneath The Southern Cross".

An abbreviated set means there's no time for "Chuck E's In Love", and the sketchy, minimal, grungy nature of these songs mean that this is a hard one to sell to neophytes at Latitude. But as she prowls round the stage, booting the kick drum or ebowing her guitar like a cello, it's a curious and special highlight of this fine festival.

While I was watching Jones in the Uncut Tent, it occurred to me that my excitement about The Hold Steady earlier had made me forget to mention Seasick Steve. This mean-looking hobo bluesman seems to be one of the hits of the festival season, judging by the rammed tent.

And it's easy to fall for his charm, as he motors away on his "piece of shit" three-string guitar with rough, rolling virtuosity. You could plausibly pitch this old rogue in dungarees as an elder statesman for the White Stripes generation. But I suspect Seasick Steve's real appeal is in his droll, lived-in personality; his skills as a raconteur are at least the equal of his blues chops.


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Weird serendipities aplenty this week: versions of "O, Death" on two albums I downloaded one after another, by Mike & Cara Gangloff and Bessie Jones; dovetailing into Sea Island overlap between Jones and Loscil. It makes for a nice blurring between time and genre with, say, the Gangloffs...