Like Willie Nelson, Rickie Lee Jones is a singular American songwriter with an eloquent soul and a melodic sense that spans a number of genres. And like Nelson, Jones' muse seems to visit only so often these days, so a few decades into her career, she often records other people's songs rather than her own. Like 2012's The Devil You Know, 2000's It's Like This, and 1991's Pop Pop, Kicks is an album devoted to her interpretations of a variety of rock and pop tunes as well as a few old standards, and even when the material is familiar, Jones inarguably finds something very much her own in this material. Kicks was recorded in New Orleans with Jones accompanied by a small army of musicians led by percussionist and co-producer Mike Dillon. While this music doesn't sound like country (even when the pedal steel guitar cries sweetly on Lee Hazlewood's "Houston"), it feels richly Southern in its comfortably laid back but impassioned tone and in the loose precision of the arrangements. Jones is capable of joining in for the tight harmonies of the swing classic "Nagasaki," but on most of the tracks, her phrasing slides gracefully over the tunes, with one foot in jazz and the other in the playful sense of boho cool that's been her hallmark since her 1979 debut LP. The surprises on Kicks come in Jones' choices of material. "Mack the Knife" and "You're Nobody Until Somebody Loves You" seem well-suited to her talents, but most fans wouldn't have expected her to dig into the back catalogs of Bad Company ("Bad Company"), America ("Lonely People"), Steve Miller ("Quicksilver Girl"), or Elton John ("My Father's Gun"). But Jones gives each of them a reading that brings a fresh emotional depth to the lyrics, and the space in Dillon's arrangements gives her all the room she needs to pull the heartache or hard-won wisdom out of these tracks. There's a bit of extra grain around the edges of Jones' voice these days, but her phrasing and imagination are as keen today as they've always been, and the faint sweetness in her delivery has lost none of its power to charm and beguile. Kicks feels like a lesser statement from Jones compared to the more ambitious original material of 2009's Balm in Gilead and 2015's The Other Side of Desire, but as a performer, she's still a unique talent, and the best moments here are a true delight.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming