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


Jenny Gillespie: Light Year

Jenny Gillespie’s hushed, vaguely introspective musings find her treading similar territory to Feist, Sarah MacLachlan and even early Joni Mitchell on occasion, but there’s a hazy glow that adds an unexpected lilt to her proceedings. Her third effort overall following her eponymous 2001 debut and the six song Love and Ammunition four years later, Light Year evokes Day-Glo imagery and idyllic settings, pondered ever so sweetly through poetry and prose. She graces these fragile soundscapes with subtlety and flair, utilizing primarily piano and acoustic guitar, which are then tastefully embellished by bells, accordion, cello, fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel. Yet despite the richness of the arrangements, the songs never feel over-indulgent, radiating instead a shimmer, sparkle and gentle sway that’s ever so beautiful and beguiling. In fact, the entire set is so unerringly mesmerizing, it’s a challenge to distinguish a single standout, although “Vanishing Point,” “Littleblood,” and “Hummingbirds” certainly vie for that distinction. However, with the songs maintaining such low wattage, it may also be necessary to submit to more than a cursory listening – in fact, several may be required before true seduction sets in. Yet be assured that once its given those repeated encounters, Light Year will shine that much stronger.

Jenny Gillespie My Space page


Anne Weiss: Concrete World and the Lover’s Dream

Anne Weiss finds herself sitting comfortably in a blues folk style on this new release. On the quieter songs here, her voice often recalls that of Joni Mitchell’s, and at other times it’s gritty and soulful, making a unique contrast. This is well-played, well-produced music, but at times Weiss tries to hit a few notes that her delicate voice can’t quite muster, as on the opening track “Ain’t Got No Reason to Lie to You.” But then she turns it all around with something like “The Song About the Affair That I’m Not Having” and it’s hard not to want to hear more. Of course, there are also some seriously funky grooves on “Special Delivery,” which features beatboxing and a sweet brass arrangement. This is where Weiss becomes her own person and sheds the sounds of others. On the title track and “Write Me a Few of Your Lines,” Weiss hits a bluesy groove that is pretty strong as well, if only her voice didn’t seem to start losing it’s power on the latter track. Overall this is pretty good stuff that’s a refreshing break from the usual thing we hear from artists like Weiss. (Potter Street Records)

Anne Weiss MySpace page