Leave it up to some good old-fashioned political strife or dissension to awaken the creative senses. As for Rickie Lee Jones, her songwriting gift was revived, in part, by the 2000 election that ushered in George W. Bush. Still, The Evening of My Best Day can’t be looked at as a total comeback, considering her delightful collection of covers on 2000’s It’s Like This and her live disc, Live at the Red Rocks. But when compared to her richly evocative, often emotionally gripping songwriting, those discs found Jones remarkably slumming. The Evening of My Best Day signals the return of Jones, the feisty, insightful songwriter, who despite the Bush Administration’s subversive scare tactics on political criticism is at once fearlessly charming and bitchy.
Jones sticks it to Duyba head-on with the opening cut, “Ugly Man, ” as she sings: “He’s an ugly man/He always was an ugly/He grew up to just like his father ” against a mid-tempo jazz waltz. Her biting lyrics are accentuated by braying, dissonant horn chords while at the same time brilliantly cloaked by childlike delivery and a fetching melody. Bush is also a target in the gritty, Sly Stone-inspired “Little Mysteries. ” But she hits him hardest on the infectious gospel romp “Tell Somebody (Repeal The Patriot Day)” with the salty lines: “Now they just want us to get in line behind a president/Yeah/When you know they spent millions of dollars/Condemning and accusing the last one from the other side. ” Again, Jones marvels at making politically incisive lyrics digestible as she underscores them with an intoxicatingly feel-good arrangement, ingeniously making spirited verses like “I want to know how far you will go to protect our right of free speech/Because it only took a moment before it faded out of reach ” sound non-threatening.
Indeed, much of The Evening of My Best Day ranks up there with the best social commentary pieces of Joni Mitchell, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan, and Stevie Wonder in its ability to be utterly musically compelling and politically pointed.
Jones also excels at turning her social commentaries away from the political to the personal with songs like the dreamy “It Takes You There, ” which confronts homelessness and self-responsibility and the dirty, blues stomp “Mink Coat at the Bus Stop, ” addressing the plights of living hard for the city.
And even when all the details aren’t offered, Jones manages to connect a political angle to personal anguish as on the beautifully cinematic “A Tree on Allenford, ” a somber, compelling ballad of the death of a young kid in a small American town. The circumstances of the death aren’t explicitly revealed, but the song hints at a hate-crime (either racial or sexual orientation), especially when Jones passionately croons: “There always flowers left there each day/For a child who died there/Or so that is what people say. “
Musically, Jones underscores her hook-laden melodies with enticing soundscapes that morph from idyllic pop and rustic blues to ethereal jazz and edgy funk. Co-producer David Kalish affords her evocative lyrics with mostly spacious ambiences that allow her sometimes incoherent singing and delightful instrumental interplay to shine, making The Evening of My Best Day one of Jones’ most completely absorbing discs in years.