Norah Returns

Blockbuster debut records are a curse and blessing and in the case of Norah Jones, who’s new record Day Breaks I have been listening to on vinyl, she’s someone who, call me distracted, has never quite equaled the passionate delivery nor the easy-to-like pop material of her first record, 2002’s Come Away With Me. While its followup, Feels Like Home was good, surprisingly flecked with country leanings, and containing covers of tunes by Townes Van Zandt, Duke Ellington and Tom Waits, 2007’s home-recorded Not Too Late seemed like a letdown, and the Jacquire King-produced The Fall (2009) and her co-writes with Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) on the breakup record, Little Broken Hearts (2012), both seemed like treading water.

After Foreverly, the Everly Brothers side project she recorded with Billie Joe Armstrong, Jones is back with her first record of originals in four years and here the focus, not to mention the life experience in terms of both her hard-earned wisdom and songwriting smarts, has hit new heights.

This is the best Norah record in the 14 years since the debut. And it feels like a comeback record, one that circles back to many of the strengths present on that still-surprising, 18 million-selling debut. This is Norah, singer/songwriter, expert selector of tunes to cover, deceptively powerful singer, audibly confident leader not only of the musicians who play on these tracks—a group that includes Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade—but also the direction of her career.

As for the covers, both sides of her musical interests find space. On the jazz side there’s a rich slow version of “Peace” by Horace Silver where she works her voice into a whispery, girlish mode and a serious, dark reading of Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower)” with Shorter on soprano sax and Jones humming that works. Her pop/Americana side is here represented by Neil Young's “Don’t Be Denied,” done in an easygoing style, which, despite a brass section, remains solidly focused like most of the record on Jones' voice and piano. Her singing on this record is the best of her entire career.

And perhaps there’s a little nostalgia talking here but another easygoing number, this time her co-write with Sarah Oda, “Tragedy” sounds for all the world like a track off the debut. It's the most confident, hook-driven music she’s ever come up with. The same goes for driving “Flipside,” which benefits from Dr. Lonnie Smith on the B-3 and Jones righteous vocals. Having been staggered by the sudden celebrity that came with her knockout debut, Jones has finally found her footing, mostly via tunes she co-wrote as opposed to covers, and happily is relevant again.

2_channel_ears's picture

Couldn't disagree more. Not Too Late is a great LP I think. While Come Away With Me put her on the map, and then some, it now sounds dated, while mid-ott's releases allow you to explore the artistry more. Even more if you catch some video of that material live.

Then there's ...Featuring, a wonderful compilation that somehow overall works. Her tune there with Bell and Sebastian has become a staple for me to judge components in my system. I agree though on her most recent works so the enthusiasm on this new one makes hopeful, will have a listen.

Allen Fant's picture

I concur- RB.

NJ is an instant purchase for me, her side projects, as well.
So much talent in a variety of settings. Truly something for everyone. Do not forget about her many, many movie soundtrack contributions.

georgehifi's picture

What a shame, I love this artist. And they've gone and compressed this album except for the vinyl. shame shame.
No natural sounds in nature are compressed, why do it to our music. Imagine sitting at a live 1812th recital and they somehow compressed the cannon shot, it would sound like a fart live.

Cheers George