So today: women. A gallery of them. Starting with one, Rickie Lee Jones, who received no reader nominations but holds a special place in my heart.
The beginning of his career delighted me. In my opinion, his second album, ‘Pirates’, released in 1981, is his masterpiece – indulgent and unwieldy, yes, but also wildly passionate, sonically grand and less conventional than its superb predecessor, ‘Rickie Lee Jones ”. And like the best of his work, it’s a gold mine of lyrics, at least if you’re okay with an overabundance of metaphors and conceits and quick deviations from one to the other.
The first title, “We Belong Together”, embodies this richness and abandonment. There’s an opening riff on the movie “Rebel Without a Cause” (“How could a Natalie Wood not get sucked / In such a personalized scene”), which gives way to nautical allusions (” rooftop docks” that are vantage points for “Crosstown seas”) and leaves room for self-contained mischief (“And you told her stand up straight when you kissed her/But that ain’t where you thought”). The song has an epic sweep, packing a lifetime of nostalgia into five heady minutes.
Lucinda Williams is another expert singer-songwriter in this genre of sorcery – and many of you to have named her. “My song for getting off the road is ‘Sweet Old World,'” Susan Newbold of Prairie Village, Kan., wrote in an email, praising Williams’ work. “It still makes me cry every time I play it.”
Me too – well, that makes me foggy. “See what you lost when you left this world” is the first line, soon followed by a beautifully chosen inventory of pleasures and intimacies (“The breath of your own lips/The touch of your fingertips”). “Sweet Old World” is the title track from an album Williams released in 1992; much of his fan-favorite 1998 album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” is equally masterful. (Thanks not only to Susan Newbold but also to Vic Williams of Reno, Nevada, and Michele Dellinger of Manhattan, among others, for singling out Williams.)
And what about Mary Chapin Carpenter? (Marcia Snowden, Lawrenceville, NJ, and Leonard Naymark, Toronto, among others.) I listened to her less than Williams, so I was delighted to recall such lyrical gems as “I Am a Town,” in which she sees herself as a place of passage and shapes lines like these: “I am peaches in September and corn from a roadside stall/I am the language of the natives. I am a cadence and a drawl.
While many of you asked that singer-songwriter Richard Thompson be considered, no one raved about his ex-wife Linda Thompson: the two rose to fame as a duo before to separate. And while he was considered the duo’s songwriter, as Jon Pareles explains in this excellent Times article on their work, his 1985 solo album, “One Clear Moment,” stands out. not only by his song but also by his words.
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