Rickie Lee Jones
Warner Brothers/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-328 180g LPs
Produced by: Russ Titelman and Lenny Waronker
Engineered by: Lee Herschberg, Loyd Clifft and Mark Linett
Mixed by: Lee Herschberg
Mastered by: Rob LoVerde at MFSL, Sebastopol, CA
Early Rickie Lee Gets Deluxe Mo-Fi Treatment
by Michael Fremer
September 01, 2010
The opener to this heavily produced album “We Belong Together” owes its existence to Bruce Springsteen, but most of the rest channels Laura Nyro.
Old school talent packaging held sway in the early 1980s and the record labels had the money to invest in their choices. This follow up to Ricki Lee Jones’s debut is a production spectacular the likes of which no longer exist unless the artist has deep personal pockets.
Every note, every gesture, every drum hit and keyboard strike has been choreographed and perfectly shaped behind Jones’s vulnerable nasal whine or delicate wisp of a reminiscence.
She’s sold in the photos as a sex object not as a cool bohemian, which would be more honest and appropriate. The airbrushed album photos look as if Jones’s handlers saw her as a Stevie Nicks type. Her future albums would exude a basic honesty that eludes this overproduced extravaganza but it was a product of the times and of two producers, one of whom came from a father wedded to the “old school.”
So the overproduced aspects—the strings, the opulent backdrops and luxurious reverb and the preciousness of “Skeletons” are to be forgiven.
Mostly, Pirates is a superb sounding jazzy, folky time capsule back to a time when an artist was overwhelmed, probably against her own better instincts by well-meaning packagers. They gave Ricki Lee a fantastic send off on her way to albums that were more intimate, personal and superior communicators of what lurked inside.
No expense was spared here. Just look at who plays! Chuck Rainey, Steve Gadd, Steve Lukather, Donald Fagen, Dean Parks, Buzzy Feiten, Lenny Castro, Victor Feldman, Randy Brecker, David Sanborn and Tom Scott among others. It’s a veritable '80s “We Are the World” assemblage of musicians!
So yes, it’s not rock and roll and it’s not jazz. It’s not pop either. It’s really a producer’s extravaganza in which Ricki Lee Jones takes a backseat to the whims of the executives in charge. It’s a fascinating time capsule to an out of joint time but one where everyone involved was sure they were doing the right thing.
Through it all Ricki Lee Jones maintains her dignity as she pushes against the production onslaught. Just listen to “ A Lucky Guy” on side two. Like much of the rest, it’s a simple, breezy tune but it’s been produced to the extreme. Every note, every cymbal hit and background “ooh, ooh” has been considered and orchestrated. The engineers have recorded every sound as if the life of the whole production depended upon its being perfect and perfectly heard by the listeners.
Mobile Fidelity’s ultra-pure playback chain is the ideal conduit for this precise production and the resulting LP and SACD are both opulent and lush sounding without sacrificing transient speed and inner detail. Rickie Lee almost gets swamped here, but Mo-Fi’s mastering in both digital and analog formats keeps her breathing.
Laura Nyro’s legacy looms large here and if you missed her you owe it to yourself to go back and give her a listen after enjoying this.
Thanks to Michael over at http://www.musicangle.com/ for the exclusive rights to reprint this material.
Copyright © 2008 MusicAngle.com & Michael Fremer - All rights reserved Reprinted by Permission