Rickie Lee Jones delivers in Portland, Maine

When I walked into the Rickie Lee Jones show the other night at AURA in Portland, Maine and plunked myself down in my front row (to the left a bit) seat I had no intentions of writing about it. I was there strictly as a fan.  I had bought the tickets months ago the moment they went on sale and had been quietly feeling the slow burn of anticipation for the show. But 47 seconds into “Weasel and the White Boys Cool” I couldn’t help myself, I pulled out my notebook and pen and started scribbling notes because my jaw was on the floor by how fantastic Jones and her two band-mates sounded.

Rickie Lee Jones is a national treasure as far as I’m concerned. She’s one of our songwriting greats and her vocals are unique in that no one sounds quite like RLJ. Her voice is clear and bright but also jazzy and moody, depending on the song.

Some people think of Jones simply in terms of the  1979 track “Chuck E’s in Love” from her debut self-titled album. OK. Fine. The song’s terrific and all. But man alive, there’s SO MUCH more to her career than that.  In fact, on that very same album is where you’ll find the song she closed out her show with in Portland the other night called “Coolsville.”

“And now a hungry night you want more and more/And you chip in your little kiss/Well I jumped all his jokers/But he trumped all my tricks” is just a tiny bit of the spellbinding lyrics. At times her vocals sink so low you swear she’s shaking hands with the devil.

Rickie Lee Jones
Rickie Lee Jones performing at AURA in Portland, Maine on 3.27.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Jones played acoustic guitar most of the night but did sit at a baby grand piano for a couple of songs. She was  accompanied by a terrific electric guitarist named Cliff Hines  and a sensational percussionist named Mike Dillon.

She did hit us with “Chuck E.’s In Love” early on but no complaints because, again, it’s a damn good song and this was version was a stripped down chilled out one.

Jones’ third song of the night is one of her finest lyrical moments and it’s another one from that famous first album that is just shy of celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Warner Bros. Records

“Last Chance Texaco” is straight-up one of the best songs out there by anyone. When Jones started playing I  for real got the chills and came damn close to having to pinch myself.

“A long stretch of headlights bends into I-9/Tiptoe into truck stops/And sleepy diesel eyes/Volcanoes rumble in the taxi and glow in the dark/Camels in the driver’s seat/A slow, easy mark.”

Jones sounded as good -if not better- on this night in Portland than perhaps I’ve ever heard her before. This was about my 5th time seeing her live.

The show continued along its riveting course with “Love Is Gonna Bring Us Back Alive.” It’s from the 1989 Jones album “Flying Cowboys” which is nothing less than sacred to me.  The album was my gateway into knowing and loving the music of Jones.

With an easy smile, sparkling eyes, blue dress and black beret, Rickie Lee Jones looked genuinely happy up on that stage  and although I wish the show had been maybe two or three songs longer, every second was captivating and it reminded me SO MUCH of why I love her music.

Other holy-bananas-this-is-so-great moments from the show included “We Belong Together” and “Living It Up” from her 1981 “Pirates” album,  her interpretation of the  Arthur Hamilton penned standard “Cry Me A River” which Jones told us was made famous by Julie London in the 50s,  “Mink Coat at the Bus Stop” from 2003’s “The Evening of My Best Day” and “Cloud of Unknowing” from 2003’s “Ghostyhead.” Oh and  especially “Eucalyptus Trail” from 2009’s “Balm in Gilead” with the lines “All my old friends have gone underground/They fall so hard, I am the last of my kind in this town.” This seems like the perfect line to end with because Rickie Lee Jones has always felt like an old friend and I’m glad  sure glad she resurfaced to put on such an extraordinary mid-week show in Maine.

Here’s a clip someone shot in Paris, France last month of Jones playing “We Belong Together” which I’m sharing so you can hear for yourself how goddamn glorious Jones still is live.

Ponti out

The Head and the Heart dazzle Maine audience

You would have never known it was a Monday night by the enthusiasm and energy of the sold-out crowd at The State Theatre. The vibe started strong with outstanding opener Springtime Carnivore and stayed that way all night long with Seattle’s much-adored indie-folk band The Head and the Heart.

It had been a couple of years since The Head and the Heart last played here and we welcomed them back with arms open wider than Steve Perry’s.

This was the second leg of the tour for their third album, “Signs of Light” which was released last fall.  “Signs of Light,” by the way, is their first album on Warner Bros. Nice!  The two that came before it are “Let’s Be Still” (2013) and their 2011 self-titled debut. Quick sidebar, “Lost in My Mind” from that first record is truly one of my favorite songs of the past several years. Right?

God I love that song. Now where was I? Ah yes, The State Theatre in Portland, Maine on Monday night, March 6. 2017.

So who’s in the band? 
The Head and the Heart is Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar), Charity Rose Thielen (violin, vocals), Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (piano), Tyler Williams (drums) and Matt Gervais (guitar). If you’re a fan of the band than you already know that Gervais, married to Thielen, is filling in for Josiah Johnson who’s on hiatus from the band as he is in treatment for drug addiction. Suffice to say, all the love to Johnson.

Jonathan Russell THATH
Jonathan Russell on stage at The State Theatre in Portland, ME Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Stage Notes
I don’t always mention the stage when writing reviews but I will for this one because it was simple yet classy, adorned with several large plants (possibly fake but that’s OK) and several white hanging globe lights along with some basketball sized orange ones around the stage. Kind of Pier One Importey, and I mean that in a good way. There was also a big disco ball above the stage that did its job in casting white spots  of light around the theatre in a way that wasn’t overbearing. I also totally dug the white neon “Signs of Light” sign hanging behind them.

The Show
The Head and the Heart played for an hour and a half, including encores and the show included songs from all three albums, many of which the very happy crowd was none too shy about singing along with. They opened with “All We Ever Knew” from the latest record and in no uncertain terms, it’s a damn fine tune.   Harmonies for days.

This went right into another new one, “City of Angels,” driven by piano and guitar. Breezy song, entirely enjoyable live. The rest of show was, understandably so,  heavy with “Signs of Light” tunes including “”Take a Walk,” and “I Don’t Mind.”

Charity THATH 3.6.17
The Head and the Heart’s Charity Rose Thielen Photo by Aimsel Ponti

We got to hear Thielen sing lead a few times which was lovely as was her violin. As for the rest of the band, they were completely on-point. They’ve been at this for a while and it showed. There wasn’t  much in the way of spontaneity but otherwise, they sounded as good as a band can sound in a theater with very old bones but a heart of gold.

As for my favorite “Signs of Light” song, that came during the encore with the gorgeous tune “Library Magic.”  The song is dreamy and full of magical lyrics like this:

Makin’ music is what we do
Tryin’ to weave the patterns for me and you
Tryin’ to make the grasses breathe and a grown man cry
Truth and life is where I gleam
Tangled up in a funnel’s wind
Tryin’ to come out walkin’
Understand it’s beyond me talkin’
Tryin’ to come out walkin’
Understand it’s beyond me talkin’

Damn near perfect song.

The Head and the Heart ended the night with “Rivers and Roads” from their first record and we filed out of the theatre listening to Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” which reminds me, the band took the stage to David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Five bonus points awarded for that.

I don’t have any honest-to-god criticism for the band or the show other than to say, and this could be from being on the road for so long- there wasn’t much in the way of audience engagement other than the obligatory telling us about the fabulous lobster rolls they had from Eventide.

But what I will say is that I looked around a lot during this show and people were INTO IT. Lots of smiling faces, singing along and roof-rattling applause and cheering. This is because The Head and the Heart write damn good songs and sing and play them incredibly well.

And lastly, Kenny Hensley’s socks.

Pianist Kenny Hensley’s sparkly red socks. Snazzy! Photo by Aimsel Ponti



Anna Lombard’s mesmerizing collision with OHX

Woah nelly! Ok so let me get right to it. One of Maine’s most incredible singers is the one and only Anna Lombard. You may know her from her Gypsy Tailwind days or more recently from her current project with Dave Gutter called Armies.

In 2013, Lombard released her debut full-length solo album “Head full of Bells,” a fantastic record that is home to the tremendous tune “All For You.”
Here’s the live version from her CD release show at Port City Music in August of 2013. I’ll never forget that night, including when we had to clear the building for half an hour because the restaurant next door had a small kitchen fire. When we all came back in they played this one and brought the house down in dazzling fashion. So take a few minutes and watch this and then we’ll get to the new version.

How great was that?

So fast forward to a couple of days ago when the  OHX remix of “All For You” arrived and knocked my hardcore winter wool socks off. I reached out to OHXer Andy Mead to explain the deal with OHX.

“OHX is my studio project – Ultimately, it’s a “production collective” where I work with a rotating team of key collaborators to produce tracks for other artists.”

Mead, Ryan Curless and Anna Lombard took “All For You” back into the studio to give it what Mead described as a “rework.”

And now there’s a gorgeous lyric video and, well, you’ve GOT to hear this.

“Your heart’s a machine” is my favorite refrain of the last couple of years.

Are you ready? ARE YOU REALLY READY?

OK then, I believe you.

With massive amounts of joy and appreciation, I give you the “All For You” OHX Remix. Ponti out.