Rickie Lee Jones’ latest album is based on “The Words,” a book by one Lee Cantelon that attempts to separate the teachings of Jesus from 2,000 years of dogma and make them relevant for the 21st century. About half the songs are recorded improvisations, with Jones making up lyrics to Cantleon’s and guitarist Peter Atanasoff’s minimal instrumental backing. Imagistic and rapturous, the poetry has a religious cast, though it’s prosaic enough to apply to anyone’s spiritual situation: Jesus is just alright, as The Byrds used to say. “You’re raising up the dead,” Jones sings in her girlish Jagger-drawl, “like you’re everybody’s friend.”
The other half of the album is conventional singer-songwriter stuff, produced by Rob Schnapf in a country-rock vein that Jones taps with a marvelously sure touch and infectious enthusiasm. The giddy “Falling Up” and the hard blues “Tried to Be a Man” could even be considered hit-single material — but not in this century.