It turns out the Duchess of Coolsville reigns over turf far more diverse than the boho ghetto she initially roamed with Chuck E. In a career now spanning 30 years, Jones has been among only a handful of artists who have consistently defied expectations, following her muse in an intriguingly convoluted path from cool jazz to noir pop to standards to vintage R&B and, lately, to excoriating Bushies and quoting Jesus (but in an anti-evangelical context). Her singular trek continues on last fall's Balm in Gilead, an exquisite collection of intensely personal songs with an intimate feel that doesn't prevent them from shape-shifting among vivid pastiches of blues, gospel, country, jazz, and R&B. Opening with "Wild Child," a dose of gossamer R&B addressed to her about-to-turn-21 daughter, Balm in Gilead (the title taken from an African-American spiritual) moves into the soulful, horn-licked "Old Enough" (a vocal duet with Ben Harper), and the aching country lament "Remember Me" (Alison Krauss's weepy fiddle echoing a bittersweet duet between Jones and the late, much-missed Vic Chesnutt). Jones evokes Billie Holiday alongside John Reynolds's mellow, Django-esque guitar on "The Moon Is Made of Gold," a charming jazz ballad written by her father in the early '50s. Wistfulness also envelops the atmospheric "His Jeweled Floor" (Victoria Williams joining Jones and Chesnutt) and "Eucalyptus Trail" (elegantly etched by Bill Frisell's distinctive guitar). It's a sneakily powerful album, its myriad threads coalescing around Jones's wild vision.
Mon., Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m., 2010