Gonna Be Great,
'cause She Got Eight
Review by A. Colin Flood
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CD Stock Number: Blue Note Records B00005YW4H
Young newcomer ingénue, Norah Jones, scored an incredible eight Grammy awards early this year with her debut pop-jazz album, "Come Away With Me." The line-crossing disc blends Jones' own songs with classic tunes from Hank Williams, J.D. Loudermilk and Hoagy Charmichael for a surprisingly professional presentation full of the promise and hope of youth, but with the control and style of experience.
The understated jazz album, with style and timing as showy as Diana Krall's superb recreations, is titled after the more engaging song on the disc, but not the most popular one. Instead, a simple tale of romantic regret, "Don't Know Why" (I didn't come), wore out a groove on both smooth jazz and popular rock stations. Her assured phrasing and precise timing are skills found more often in older singers. Her clean and simple piano and vocals, with simple guitar, bass and brush drums as elegant accompaniment, allow the music to breathe. Jones' stylish vocals seep through the speakers.
Much like Diana Krall, who learned her dramatic timing and showy presentation from life in front of the ivories, Jones too was NOT schooled primarily in voice, but in piano. In fact, by the time she got to Blue Note Records she never had a single singing lesson. Yet the head of Blue Note signed Jones after listening to just three vocals. Arif
Mardin, Norah Jones, Jay Newland and Craig Street (best known for his work with Cassandra Wilson) produced the resulting album.
It was a departure for Blue Note (EMI's respected jazz label), as Jones' first full-length album was "not really a jazz" album. When the multi-million album passed the one million mark (platinum), a suddenly very popular, and now nervous, Jones naively asked the distributor to pull the release. The pop-jazz disc went on to steal an amazing eight Grammy Awards! The album itself won five awards:
· Album of the Year
· Record of the Year (for "Don't Know Why")
· Best New Artist
· Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Don't Know Why")
· Best Pop Vocal Album
In addition to racking up an instant superstar career for the 23 year-old, her haunting love song, "Don't Know Why," won three awards for itself:
· Song of the Year (awarded to the songwriter, Jesse Harris)
· Best Producer, non-classical (Arif Mardin)
· Best Engineered album, non-classical (awarded to engineers Husky
Huskolds, Arif Mardin and Jay Newland)
At 5-foot-1, the amicable Jones has a large family background in music. Her mother was a concert producer for years in New York. Her father is Indian sitar master, Ravi
Shankar. Jones was formally schooled in piano, but listens to a variety of styles as diverse as Hank Williams ("Cold, Cold Heart"), Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington ("The Nearness of You"). Subject to the capriciousness of youth, the youthful overnight sensation says her favorite singers are:
· Ray Charles
· Aretha Franklin ("she puts so much of herself into the music")
· Willie Nelson
· Joni Mitchell ("her phrasing is amazing")
· Billie Holiday
· Dinah Washington ("brassy")
· Sarah Vaughan
· Etta James
· Otis Redding
This list is telling. Half of her debut disc shows the influence of these artists, though the other half still exhibits her youthful inexperience: although the songs are rendered in similar fashion, her own lyrics are the weakest on the album. Yet, if you respect any of the other artists mentioned above and below here, you will respect Jones' work too. If, for no other reason, than her stunning eight wins at the Grammys vaults the young singer/pianist into the big-name leagues.
I once thought Diana Krall to be a young, fresh face, just starting out, who is small, demure and who spied a niche in the dusty halls of jazz as an un-crowded venue ripe for the picking. I was wrong. Instead, Krall dominates the jazz charts, and new movie scores, as a tall, middle age, experienced and luminous ingénue of torchy nightclub standards.
Now, young Jones is hot on her heels. She spies the ripe venue for a young and demure ingénue. While not quite as dramatic or as strong as
Krall, although potentially just as sultry as Krall and k.d. lang, as only a young woman might become, Jones doesn't push her voice to the limits. Unlike Rickie Lee Jones however, she doesn't suffer from "little
girl-itist" either. Jones doesn't sound childishly young, just surprisingly competent for so youthful a performer. (Hollywood Producers! Save your money! Book the charming newcomer Jones instead of the more expensive
None of her other songs are vastly different than the title track or the popular song. Neither worse nor better: simply more in the same vein. Not quite as elegant as Patricia Barber, certainly not as snap, crackle and pop as Sheryl Crow. A few of her songs reflect her country music appreciation, but with only instrumental hints in the background, not obnoxious forefront treatments. Her torchy jazz hints don't lean as far into country as
k.d. lang sometimes does.
Unlike many discs, where the hit song is not the best one on the album, "Don't Know Why" (remains my favorite. Simply recorded with voice accompanied by tantalizing piano
plinkings, it pulled me from the smooth jazz station to her disc:
Out across the endless sea
I would die in ecstasy
But I'll be a bag of bones
Driving down the road along
My heart is drenched in wine
But you'll be on my mind
Something has to make you run
I don't know why I didn't come
The other songs, while not as memorable, neither explore new variations nor chart new territory; either in lyrics, presentation or instruments. Jones doesn't switch to a suddenly bold or unique style right in the middle of the side. The result is not a weak album, but one that is consistent sounding throughout. If you like either the title track or the popular song, you will like the rest of the album.
Although one of my many, petty complaints about 12-inch vinyl recordings is their dearth of new artist releases; Jones debut is immediately available, at three times Amazon's CD price, on Blue Note's 200-gram analogue disc
[NJCAWMV, Price: $35.00].
Jones got into the same Dallas magnet arts school that Erykah Badu attended. "She had a sense of phrasing and style and quality that just seemed to be well beyond her years," a New York times article quotes her piano teacher as recalling, "she was ready for a professional career from the moment I met her."
Her three-month coast-to-coast tour starts in Florida (yippee!) in June.