SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — If there has been one thing consistent about Rickie Lee Jones throughout her nearly 40 years in the music business, it is that she is constantly changing. Ever since her 1979 breakthrough hit “Chuck E.’s in Love,” Jones has made a career out of seamlessly transitioning between musical genres, from pop to jazz to rock and beyond. In doing so, the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter has reached a wide variety of audiences while establishing her legacy.
Jones’ latest album “The Other Side of Desire” — her first to feature newly-written original songs in more than a decade — continues that legacy, as residents will find out for themselves when she performs at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on Sunday, Nov. 22. For this album, she embraced her home city of New Orleans. Jones said she could not help but be inspired by the old-yet-festive sights, the joyful spirit and the natural music of the Big Easy.
“There are many kinds of musics going on here,” Jones told the News-Record in a Nov. 6 email. “The streets, daily life are full of music: the sound of the river, the trains; the tubas and the bars. I have used New Orleans many times, from ‘Danny’s All-Star Joint’ to ‘Woody and Dutch,’ but this is a whole record of using the sounds around me.
“Once I decided to write, it felt exciting,” she said.
Jones listed “Finale (A Spider in the Circus of the Falling Star)” as her favorite song on the album since she feels it is most connected to other pieces she has done in the past with simple yet unfolding melodies, like “Ghostyhead” and “Stewart’s Coat.” Overall, though, the record and its New Orleans sound takes her music in a different direction, just as her other albums have done in the past. And while many fans will surely appreciate the chance to hear her take on yet another musical style, Jones herself even admitted that not everyone always likes her genre hopping. In fact, she said some people have felt “betrayed” by certain records she has done, wishing that she would focus on a preferred style instead.
Still, Jones said she is not willing to be labeled because she loves different influences and is determined to continue exploring those to which she feels she can bring something unique. Doing so is vital to her as a musician, she explained.
“I thrive on creativity, on learning new things,” Jones said. “I must do it to survive. So it benefits me immensely — just not maybe economically.”
No matter what genre she is playing, Jones has developed a reputation for giving it her all during live performances. Whether it is singing quietly or emphatically, she has been praised by critics for infus ing ing her songs with an emotional depth onstage.
The reason for this is simple, according to Jones: The performance of a song is just as important to her as its lyrics.
“The performance is part of who I am, just like the song,” Jones said. “Performing the song brings dimension to the meaning that cannot be conveyed by recordings. It all starts with performance, being in the room with living people, their collective energy, my emotions, my voice. It’s really quite a, well, magical thing. Wondrous.”
Another experience Jones found quite satisfying was releasing “The Other Side of Desire” independently. Though she said she probably will not profit as much from this record after factoring in expenses, she said she much preferred having the chance to keep her finger on the pulse of the business side of the album over leaving it in the hands of a record company. Now that it is out, she said she can also give the album the attention it needs to be successful — as opposed to the roughly 12 weeks a major label would give it.
Plus, “record company owner” is yet another accomplishment that the legendary singer-songwriter can now add to her list, along with her two Grammy Awards, two appearances on the cover of Rolling Stone, and collaborations with the likes of Dr. John and Randy Newman. With all that Jones has done, one might wonder just what there is left for her to achieve.
But Jones has a few ideas, and not just within the musical realm.
“I hope to accomplish conveying complex ideas, writing, drawing, doing new things — new to me and also maybe new in general,” Jones said. “I would love to act. I would like to do a play, score a film maybe. I’d like to travel to the Arctic, to Tierra del Fuego, to Africa and unusual islands along the coast of Russia and South America. I love scuba diving. I like to paraglide. I’d like to also help with some large issue — animals, humans, trees.
“Meantime, I could use some money — I’m running a record company now!” she said.
For tickets to Jones’ show at SOPAC, call 973-313-2787 or visit www.sopacnow.org/rickie-lee-jones/.