Rickie Lee Jones' The Devil You Know is a collection of classic rock cover songs that follows the intimate -- and excellent -- Balm in Gilead. Jones has performed covers since she began singing in dive bars in Los Angeles in the 1970s. They've made steady appearances in her recording career: Girl at Her Volcano (1983), Pop Pop in 1991, and It’s Like This (2000). Jones is a truly gifted interpreter. She takes songs inside herself, pulls them apart, reveals previously hidden meanings, and imbues them with new shades of meaning while transforming them into something of her own. Ben Harper, who collaborated with her on Balm in Gilead, produced the set. He gets it exactly right: the instrumentation is sparse, leaving lots of space for Jones' voice at the forefront. Ultimately, The Devil You Know is about Jones' voice and the journey it takes through these songs. So intimate are these proceedings, the listener may feel she is eavesdropping. In Jones' voice, "Sympathy for the Devil" is no longer a swaggering statement of rebellion, but an exposed view of the heart of the being who boasts. Neil Young's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" sheds the innocence of the original and imparts experience, wisdom, and scars from love's battlefield without bitterness or cynicism, only tenderness. Her reading of Van Morrison's "Comfort You" is proof. She takes the songwriter's sense of want and expresses it as a pure intention in spite of its cost. The two seeming oddities here -- Harper's original "Masterpiece" and the standard "St. James Infirmary" -- add striking depth and dimension. The former is obviously modeled on Morrison's Astral Weeks period and as such, Jones gives it that anchor. Her take on the latter tune strips away the decades of nostalgia and brings it right back to the blues. Her emotive resonance brings back the depth of emotion the song was meant to convey. Jones' version of Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" and Ted Anderson's "Seems Like a Long Time" both appeared on Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story. Jones adds a different kind of authority to both. Her voice, while less grainy, is more world-weary, more broken, but more convincing in its resolve. Between them is the Rolling Stones' "Play with Fire," its refrain is a warning (once more stripped of its boast), an act of simple, dark truth-telling. With its restrained arrangements and spacious production, The Devil You Know allows Jones' enigmatic voice the room it needs to rise and deliver these songs, not from rock & roll history, but from her heart, marrow, and bones.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek