To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul."
- African-American spiritual
Sometimes, we all need a little healing balm to rub all over our lives. Just ask Rickie Lee Jones.
"Loss sometimes takes us to the brink. Divorce, moving, death, taxes, I have these things with me the past three years," Jones told the Sparks Tribune. "I am dealing with some of it still, but I believe a good change is going to come."
Jones has seen a lot of change over her 30-year career in music, from her burst on the scene in 1979 to the doldrums of the 1990s to her resurgence in the last decade. She brings it all with her and will let it all out on stage Saturday at John Ascuaga's Nugget.
Her new album is called "Balm in Gilead," which is taken from the Bible. In Jeremiah 8:22, Jeremiah asks the rhetorical question, "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?" The phrase has been used numerous times for album titles and is even the name of a national organization helping to turn black churches into centers of support for people with AIDS and HIV and was mentioned in the Edgar Allen Poe poem "The Raven."
Like Poe's character, Jones seeks the balm to heal her emotional hurt. In the opening track, "Wild Girl," she sings about her daughter and family struggles: "Well it’s hard to be older and poor / I don’t dig it that much anymore, But every day of my life / I’m so proud I became his wife / Because I got to raise Charlotte / And Charlotte’s learning / The only game in town."
Then, in "Bonfire," she sings to her lost love: "I thought I’d finally won your heart /And that forever never part /And in sweet love we would grow old / Now I'm just a scavenger in the cold / I'm just a scavenger / All I can do is wish you well / And light the Bonfires of hell / Honey, you hurt me bad this time / I'm burning everything I find."
Jones musically ponders life with a soft, sweet voice and gentle guitar accompaniment. Her contemplative, singer-songwriter style began with her self-titled debut in 1979, which lead to a television appearance on "Saturday Night Live," a world tour, the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and five Grammy Award nominations: Record of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, Song of the Year ("Chuck E.'s in Love") and Best New Artist. She won Best New Artist at the January 1980 ceremony.
Including "Balm in Gilead," she has released 15 albums. In 1999, she received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Performance for a duet with Dr. John on "Makin' Whoopee," but she hit a rough spot in the middle of the 1990s, when she thought her music career might be over.
"From 94 to 99, those were hard years," she said. "I did not get much good feedback, no love, I felt. Looking back though, that was probably due more to a boyfriend problem than a career problem."
But she persevered and in 2000 she released "It's Like This," her second album of cover songs, this one including Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids,” Steve Winwood’s “Low Spark of High Healed Boys,” Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” The Beatles’ “For No One” and Leonard Bernstein’s “One Hand, One Heart.” The album garnered Jones her eighth Grammy nomination.
Now, touring to promote "Balm in Gilead," she has learned a lot from 30 years in music. Money is something she has spent a lot of time thinking about, as evidenced by by her response to a question about what she would tell her younger self if given the chance.
"Save some of that money kid, you're gonna need it," she said. "You think it will never run out. I threw away thousands a day: hotels, money falling out of my pocket, trusting strangers, I mean, just a lethal combination of naivety and gay abandonment — or perhaps medication — but I had never had any money. Suddenly I had lots.
"It took a lifetime to learn how to control spending. Spending really is an addiction, and in a capitalistic society in which we are encouraged, to say the least, to spend our money on nameless things, to keep the economy going ... we have possessions and no happiness, money and stress, these things don't make for happy people."
She is also more philosophical about touring.
"It's a much more cognitive affair," she said. "I feel like the first tours were frought with fear and loathing, I had such stage fright. Every show could be my last. At some point though, I realized that I like to sing, I like to hear people applaud, I like to perform for them, and hey, they like me, they came to see me, they paid their hard-earned money so why not treat them as a guest, instead of always auditioning for them? It was exhausting. I just learned how to be at ease. I always had a spark, much more lively as a kid, but that's just a question of getting a band that goes with you on that ... I am actually sitting down this year alot. It's more conducive to a feeling of ... informal formality."
And philosophical about life.
"Our road is not only for ourselves, it serves the lives of of others. We teeter on the brink because someone leaned too far left somewhere, some time. We forget that we are a sea, and think we are the only little drop in the ocean."
Rickie Lee Jones performs Saturday in the Celebrity Showroom at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32 and are available by calling (800) 648-1177 or 356-3300 or by visiting www.janugget.com. Dinner and show packages are available.
For more information and to hear Jones' music, visit www.rickieleejones.com.