Cherished US singer-songwriter back on form

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Easy Come, Easy Glow

She still manages, here, to sound unlike anyone else?Rickie Lee Jones deserves immense respect. You can sense, through the diversity, dexterity and determination on display throughout her first self-written album in six years, that it’s a point of pride for her not to be influenced by much outside her own distinctive back catalogue. And world events. Apparently the George Bush tragi-comedy has been significant in luring Jones out from self-imposed reclusiveness, where she had “neither impetus nor inspiration to write”. Praise be to dopey Dubya: fired up, she’s in tremendous form.

Not that it’s a right-on rant?Jones’chosen idioms and vocal phrasings are personal and intimate, warm: the tracks wind and weave, barely linear but beautifully focused. Rarely since the heyday of The Blue Nile and Mary Margaret O’Hara has a white singer so instinctively understood when to push and surge and when to take the foot off the gas. As a feel thing?aside from its themes?this is both a dawn and a twilight, a glowing slow burn.

Reacquainting herself with songwriting (she did the covers thing on 2000’s It’s Like This), she’s called in David Kalish, who collaborated with her on 1981’s Pirates (for many of us, her masterpiece), and various top-of-the-range musos (there are vocal cameos from Grant Lee Phillips, Syd Straw and Ben Harper). From writing a song every few years, she found she was often recording four in a day. Thus the feel:like “Let’s Get It On”, it’s like everyone involved is shrugging at your compliments and saying, “Oh, this old thing? Just slung it together.” Quality oozing from every pore, blending blues, folk and jazz, but never for a moment sterile or slick.

“Ugly Man” and “Tell Somebody” are the most overtly topical, “Bitchenostrophy” is light funk (and lyrically mystifying), and “Little Mysteries” is as seductive as John Martyn’s “Sweet Little Mystery”. There’s lust for detail within the wordscapes of “A Tree On Allenford” and “Mink Coat At The Bus Stop”, and the d