With her expressive soprano voice employing sudden alterations of volume and force, and her lyrical focus on Los Angeles street life, Rickie Lee Jones comes on like the love child of Laura Nyro and Tom Waits on her self-titled debut album. Given the population of colorful characters who may or may not be real people that populate her songs -- Chuck E., Bragger, Kid Sinister, and others -- she also might have had Bruce Springsteen in her bloodline (that is, the Springsteen of his first two albums), and her jazzbo sensibility suggests Mose Allison as a grandfather. Producers Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman, who know all about assisting quirky singer/songwriters with their visions, have brought in a studio full of master session musicians, many of them with jazz credentials, and apparently instructed them to follow Jones' stop-and-start, loud-and-soft vocalizing, then overdubbed string parts here and there. The music thus has a sprung rhythmic feel that follows the contours of Jones' impressionistic stories about scuffling people on the streets and in the bars. There is an undertow of melancholy that becomes more overt toward the end, as the narrator's friends and lovers clear out, leaving her "Standing on the corner/All alone," as she sings in the final song, "After Hours (Twelve Bars Past Goodnight)." It's a long way, if only 40 minutes or so, from the frolicsome opener, "Chuck E.'s in Love," which had concluded that he was smitten by "the little girl who's singin' this song." But then, the romance of the street is easily replaced by its loneliness. Rickie Lee Jones is an astounding debut album that simultaneously sounds like a synthesis of many familiar styles and like nothing that anybody's ever done before, and it heralds the beginning of a potentially important career.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann