It is becoming almost a rite of passage that veteran singers and musicians who achieved a modicum of success in earlier years try to stir up interest with an album of covers. The latest in this genre is from Rickie Lee Jones, who has been belting out jazz, blues, soul, and experimental sounds for some five decades but is still best known for her 1979 hit “Chuck E.’s in Love.”
The new album, KICKS, starts off with a belter. The cover of “Bad Company,” originally released by the eponymous band, is smoky, bluesy, and heartfelt. It is the kind of performance that tempts you to put it on repeat and just keep it going. Jones sounds as if she is living the song.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album fails to come close to this first track’s promise. It is a series of different styles of song some of which are interesting and some, frankly, quite skippable.
Examples of the first are America’s “Lonely People” and “The End of the World”, which was a hit for Brenda Lee back in 1963.
Jones’s rendition of both is pleasant. Her voice suits the songs, adding a certain sadness to the proceedings, giving them pathos.
But the problem is that for a cover to really work, it either has to be a complete overhaul (e.g., Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”) or a radical reinterpretation (e.g., Marilyn Manson’s eerily dark translation of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”).
Jones’ “Bad Company” works in part because it sounds new — intimate blues versus the original’s stadium rock sound. By contrast, her version of “The End of the World,” while accomplished, is pretty much the same as Lee’s but not nearly as gripping.
This failure to differentiate is most evident in “Mack the Knife,” which has been covered by all and sundry. If anything, this version serves to remind how good Ella Fitzgerald’s cover was.
Elsewhere, there is a fun version of the Tin Pan Alley classic “Nagasaki” and a nice rendition of Steve Miller’s “Quicksilver Girl.”
But nothing on KICKS comes close to “Bad Company,” which is a shame.