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What is it about the look of a desultory woman with the stub of a cigarette hanging from her lips or hands? Take, for example, the cover photo of the film score LP The Hot Spot. All you see are a woman’s very full lips, some wisps of hair, and a stub of a cigarette hanging from said lips. The Dennis Hopper film (subtitled “Sex is never safe. It’s dangerous.”) wasn’t much of a movie, but the score, featuring John Lee Hooker and Miles Davis, remains a classic—and the album cover matches the noir mood. Equally simple and to the point is the cover for Marianne Faithfull’s finest hour, Broken English. The artist’s face remains in shadow, her upper arm and hand draped across her eyes with a cigarette protruding from two fingers. The entire cover is tinted in shades of dark blue, except the ash of the cigarette, which burns bright red. If The Hot Spot made sex dangerous, Broken English made it positively spine-chilling.
Rickie Lee Jones’ persona was defined by a similarly themed, equally iconic covers. On her eponymous first album, we see her headshot dominated by her beret and cigarillo. The gamine looks of the album-cover photograph underscore the desultory sound of Jones’ voice, full of slurred words and time signatures. Assisted by guest appearances by Dr. John and Randy Newman, the single “Chuck E.’s in Love” catapulted her to prominence. Her affair with Tom Waits, her Annie Leibovitz-shot Rolling Stone cover photograph, and her hip, casual wardrobe made her the queen of cool. One of the eleven self-penned songs on the album, “Coolsville,” sealed the deal.
Except for one live track, Rickie Lee Jones was exceptionally well-recorded at the Warner Bros. Burbank studios. When Mobile Fidelity was still a young company, it reissued the album as its 89threlease. The version quickly went out of print and became one of the most sought-after audiophile titles, often selling for hundreds of dollars. Assuming it would eventually be reissued, I sold off my copy and held onto the original. I got lucky. Two reissues became available, both superior to the original LP and the first Mobile Fidelity offering.
Kevin Gray’s wonderful 33RPM remaster for Rhino is a little more three-dimensional than either of its predecessors. The added detail shows just how far mastering facilities have gone in upgrading equipment during the last couple of decades. The newer, 45RPM 2LP box set from Mobile Fidelity features a wider soundstage. And the texture is off the charts. Listen to the vocal sibilants and you can hear Jones’ breath slowly fade away. The richness added by the 45RPM treatment makes the Rhino LP sound a tad dry by comparison.
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