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Music: The Other Side of Desire – Rickie Lee Jones

Emma Connolly

Emma Connolly

Emma lives in England. Ace the dog keeps her feet and heart warm while she writes about music and culture.
Emma Connolly

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Rickie Lee Jones - Other Side of Desire album cover

Ten years since Hurricane Katrina, an album crafted and recorded in New Orleans marks the same decade for a different reason – the length of time since Rickie Lee Jones last released original compositions. She is a relatively new resident of the city, living for the past two years physically and, also perhaps, metaphorically on ‘The Other Side of Desire’ – the street made famous by Tennessee Williams.

This album is a deceptively easy listen, haunted throughout by a city that never seems completely to wake from dreams within dreams that reaffirm its mythical history. Jones’ relationship with New Orleans and its musicians is longstanding and the ghosts of pasts that were or might have been float through the songs, fleeting mirages of humanity shaped by the city they inhabit. In ‘Christmas in New Orleans’ – which musically echoes The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’, the past makes an explicit appearance to show that even a love long lost can scar afresh; ‘How would I explain a love / That fell down from the stars / And burned a light into the dark / That was my life for a while / And now you wake up again / In that old black hat / Another dream of me / But you don’t tell her that.’ Simple and sincere, beautiful and cruel, the songwriting on this album is superb.

Album detailMany of the songs are overtly influenced by Southern Louisiana; ‘Valtz de Mon Pere’ is a delicate Cajun honky-tonk that echoes through the dancefloors of generations, and ‘J’ai Connais Pas’ rolls with a gutsy Fats Domino-style piano. The cautionary tale of love’s enthusiasm, ‘Haunted’, is a delicate swampy blues.

Others inhabit the gritty magic of the New Orleans streets and bars; in ‘Jimmy Choo Shoes’ Jones sings “But don’t tarry in the street Pauline / Because the cops down here / They’re cold and mean / If they see you up there on your hot tin roof / Throwing pop bottles at them / With your gold cap tooth.” Meanwhile ‘Infinity’ was inspired by a powerful dream: ‘Cos this is where we’ve always been, and it will come again and it hasn’t even happened, we’re travelling on waves of light and infinity.’

On an album that effortlessly encompasses all these aspects and more – from the endearing lyrics of ‘Juliette’ (a song for “mon chien”) to the sinister cabaret soundscape of ‘A Spider in the Circus of the Falling Star’ – Rickie Lee Jones’ age shows in all the right ways. She has something to say and this is no brittle take-no-prisoners celebrity creation, it is the pure crafting of songs.