Norah Jones: …Featuring Norah Jones

RIYL: Diana Krall, Eva Cassidy, Bonnie Raitt

Since beginning with the smash hit Come Away With Me in 2002, Norah Jones’ recording career has been a study in slow, carefully measured decline. Clearly not willing to pigeonhole herself as a crooner of piano ballads, Jones has tugged away from the dulcet tones of her debut – but because she has label bosses to answer to (or maybe just because she’s smart enough to stay the course), she hasn’t totally broken with the sound that made her famous, and the result has been a string of lukewarm records that hint at the artist Jones wishes she could be, if only the stakes weren’t so high.

The shame of it all is that Jones’ kitten’s purr of a voice, while perfect for selling lattes, sounds just as fine – if not finer – out of its established context. Over the years, Jones has built a reputation for herself as a terrific guest vocalist with a wonderful sense of humor, popping up on recordings by everyone from Outkast to Ray Charles, and singing about everything from Chex Mix (on the Lonely Island song “Dreamgirl”) to motherfuckers (Peeping Tom’s “Sucker”). Sadly, neither of those songs made the cut for this collection, but you get the idea: …Featuring Norah Jones might bear the unmistakable stink of a contract-fulfillment release, but by bundling up 18 noteworthy collaborations, it does an arguably better job of highlighting her strengths than anything since Come Away With Me.

If there’s a real quibble here, it’s that the really left-field stuff (like the Lonely Island and Peeping Tom songs) was left off, and while you do get to hear Jones doing stuff she can’t do as a solo artist (like playing hook girl for Q-Tip and Talib Kweli on “Life Is Better” and “Soon the New Day,” respectively), much of …Featuring‘s charms are more subtle, like hearing her slip inside Joni Mitchell’s “Court & Spark” alongside Herbie Hancock, or her lovely vocals for Charlie Hunter’s “More Than This” cover. Taken as a whole, it doesn’t reinvent Jones’ sound the way she often seems halfway inclined to do, but it’s a damn sight more interesting than, say, 2009’s The Fall. Here’s hoping she listens to this compilation often while composing her next full-length set. (Blue Note 2010)

Norah Jones MySpace page


Norah Jones: The Fall

RIYL Cassandra Wilson, Grace Potter, Patty Larkin

Advance word to the contrary, Norah Jones’ fourth album shows a marked change in approach but little difference in attitude. Stirring up the ambiance with synths, effects, beats and a general trend towards more modern programming tools, Jones lays out a steady series of laments about traitorous lovers and ruined relationships with a distinct emphasis on disillusionment in general. Titles like “Stuck,” “I Wouldn’t Need You” and “You’ve Ruined Me” offer an early hint of her malfunctioning mindset, but lines like “If I touched myself the way you touched me…then I wouldn’t need you,” speak directly to her disappointment. Conversely, the carnival-like atmosphere of “Chasing Pirates,” the practically jaunty “Tell Yer Mama” and the propulsive duo of “Young Blood” and “It’s Gonna Be” prove a welcome respite from the deathly serious tact that Jones helped trademark on her three earlier albums.

Norah edit 2

And while there’s still ample evidence of that wounded, torch song set-up imbued in “Manhattan,” “Even Though,” “I Wouldn’t Need You” and “Waiting,” even her more sobering perspectives seem somewhat more illuminated, given fuller arrangements that detract attention from her solitary keyboard and instead steer the proceedings towards the emphatic strum of her electric guitar. Ending the album on a lighter note that finds her offering an ode to her dog – the winsome “Man of the Hour” – shows that for her all her trepidation and turmoil, Jones has the capability of picking herself up, no matter how serious the fall. Blue Note 2009

Norah Jones MySpace page


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