fun and perceptive and pop and country

Oooz Noz (Nine Dog Records)

Price Jones

By Allen Howie

Price Jones wrote all thirteen songs on Oooz Noz, handles all the singing chores and virtually all the instruments. Think of Kate Bush as a country artist making a pop crossover album, or Rosanne Cash fronting the Bangles, and you'll have some idea of what to expect.

Jones' writing combines a keen eye with an unending sense of playfulness. The music is some weirdly effective mix of Nashville technique and new wave/pop bounce, her voice embodying all of those qualities at once. Like Bush, she can sound ethereal, even ominous, one minute, then lighthearted or loony the next. Pull it all together, and you have a record that works in layers, drawing you progressively deeper into its spell.

"Take the Trolley" is a street-level view of the Music City, told over a rubbery rhythm track spiked with unexpected sonic accents. Boasting an enormously catchy chorus, "Still One" is a penetrating reminder of how easily friends lose touch with each other, and how long their influences linger.

Switching styles as if she were trying on hats, Jones gives an intimate, fragile performance on the haunting "We Women," an oddly moving portrait of a gender wading waist-deep in self-pity. Shifting gears, she slips into the pretty pop of "Sleepin' at Your Feet," an irresistibly sweet confection.

The guitar-driven crunch of "Ya Yas" is the kind of rock candy that Pat Benatar and Joan Jett used to toss onto the charts, minus the swagger, while "Hey Love" is pure country longing in a perfect pop wrapper, as easy and natural a hit as anything you've heard.

The brightly rolling piano of "Missionary Ridge" puts a cheery show tune face on a shaky life. Jones prowls through the dark Celtic swirl of "Roller Coaster Life" like Cyndi Lauper in a grim, gothic mood. That mood persists in the spare, brittle beauty of "Waiting for the Train."

The driving beat of "There Was a Time" fuels a song full of misgivings about the way youthful dreams wrestle with adult reality. Its flip side is the greasy grind of "Going to L.A.," where, at least for today, those dreams come true. But the buzz of "Make Me Believe" calls everything into question, even as it demands a grand gesture to sweep all doubts away.

The record draws to a gentle close with the placid "Kindred Spirits," as Jones confronts all her own questions, then allows herself the comfort of companionship. "I don't feel much older," she softly intones, "But the years are gone/It's a scary brush with time/I'm half a memory of mine/Oh, life's not fair/But you're still there." With Oooz Noz, Price Jones provides a priceless soundtrack for the day-to-day, a reassuring reminder that, with all life's ups and downs, it's still one heck of a ride.