Anyone familiar with Bruce Springsteen's appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival will remember the parade of rock star guests who joined him onstage, such as John Fogerty and Dr. John. Fans at Springsteen's 2014 appearance may have taken it in stride when Rickie Lee Jones joined the band for several songs. But it was a surprise for her. Jones had gone to the Fair Grounds like many others that day — as a local with a ticket.
"I never would have worn that red dress if I had known I was going to be onstage," Jones says from her home in Bywater. "It was just for friends to find me in the crowd."
Jones went backstage to visit a few musician friends, and Springsteen's wife Patti Scialfa saw her and whisked her to the dressing rooms.
"I went into the dressing room and then the king came in — he's like a king, the air goes out of the room," Jones says. "He was like, 'Oh, my God, we love you so much. We're so glad you're coming back.' It was so moving. I am 'coming back.' ... Then when I got up there, he said, 'Just stay onstage.'"
Though she hasn't performed in New Orleans, Jones quietly moved to the city from Los Angeles in 2013, and this week she's back — with her first album of new work in a decade (she has released a few albums of older material). National audiences easily might relate that the title of The Other Side of Desire (officially out Tuesday) to her career crafting folk- and jazz-influenced ballads about love and longing. Jones climbed to the top of the music scene with her 1979 namesake debut (featuring "Chuck E.'s in Love") and 1981 follow-up Pirates. She graced the cover of Rolling Stone and won a Best New Artist Grammy Award in 1980.
The Other Side of Desire, however, also is a reference to the location of her Bywater home. Some songs include very clear homages to local sounds, including the Fats Domino-like piano (provided by Jon Cleary) on "J'ai Connais Pas" and Louis Michot's (Lost Bayou Ramblers) fiddling on "Valtz de Mon Pere (Lover's Oath)." The album is a triumph on several fronts for Jones, who had grown tired of Los Angeles and wanted to write again.
"I knew I didn't want to live in L.A. anymore — I hadn't written," Jones says. "It was a bold move to realize and accept that I needed to totally restart my life if I wanted to have happiness — and to identify what happiness might be. The first thing it looked like was friends. I needed to have friends around me."
Jones was thinking about moving to the Florida Keys because of its wildlife, but after spending a month there, she opted for New Orleans, where she had a friend. She stayed in the friend's attic apartment for a while and then got her own apartment. She retrieved her piano from Los Angeles and began writing songs in her new home.
To record the album, she doubled her goal in an online funding campaign and hired John Porter to produce it. He recruited many local musicians for the project, including Cleary, Matt Perrine and James Singleton. For some songs she aimed for what she thought of as the sassy New Orleans R&B sounds of 1960s hits by The Dixie Cups, but most of the ballads feature her wry lyrics and a gentle jazz-folk tone.
Jones found a sense of community in New Orleans, as well as some new inspiration. She says the last song on the album, "Finale (A Spider in the Circus of the Falling Star)," was inspired by her neighborhood.
"One of the things I was most struck with last year, was (that) at all times of night, a parade would go by my house," she says. "Of tattooed children playing all diverse instruments. They'd be going by at midnight and 11. ... I got this animated thing that was happening in my mind."