on March 4, 2007
While the first two albums were dominated by covers, "Not Too Late" is all solo or co-written original material.
It's not startling, as these songs continue her pop-meets-country with a dash of smoky cabaret style. Nor is it exactly revelatory. Firstly her life, apart from the fame, has been remarkably normal and uneventful and lyrically the new material is mostly observational. ("I have a wonderful boyfriend. So how am I going to write a tortured break-up song? My life is really good and I don't want to ruin it just for a good song.").
Still, there are a few pointed lines about misplaced love and even some mild political commentary in "My Dear Country".
The album has its share of strong tracks, like the Dylanesque "Wish I Could", with its unexpected half-note elisions, or the trad-jazzy Tom Waits-like "Sinkin' Soon", or the haunting, whimsical, cello-darkened "Broken".
The mood is mostly dreamy, lazy country-rockers, quirky waltzes, a little earthy bluesiness and bits of laid-back funk, and there's even a demurely delivered anti-Bush song.
Jones's voice, always more characterful than the easy-listening tag ever implied, sometimes shifts to a strange place between Madeleine Peyroux's or Diane Krall's jazzy smokiness and the sultry, jazz/soul balladry a la Billie Holiday..
But Norah's and partner Lee Alexander's tunes need to improve if the singer isn't to retreat to covering classics again, as she almost certainly will. It's pretty music (though the sugary " Little Room" gets to tooth-twinge point), beautifully performed.
But Norah Jones has more to offer than this, and the needs of the EMI boardroom probably won't help her find it.
on February 3, 2007
One interesting thing about Amazon reviews is that readers really don't like negative ones; just look at the feedback votes for the pans on this page. I think that's because people come to an Amazon page wanting to buy the item, wanting to like it, and the negative reviews are not really what we want to see, not when we've got credit card in-hand.
With the new Norah Jones record, Not Too Late, you've also got the burden of expectation; in a short time she's become a major, Grammy-winning star. You couldn't escape Come Away With Me the summer it was out; it seemed like every time I went to someone's house, they simply HAD to play me this new, great record that it was impossible not to like.
And that's the thing about Not Too Late. It is not impossible to dislike this record. Come Away From Me was lightning in a bottle; it sold 18 million copies yet it was a small record. It was that rarest of albums--a hit on merit, not record company push (heck, it was on Blue Note). It oozed simple earnest charm.
But you can't make your first record more than once, and you probably can't make another universally acclaimed 18-million seller either. Not Too Late is a more challenging work. Of course it boasts the natural gifts of Jones and crew (notably boyfriend/collaborator Lee Alexander.) But it is a genre-hopping, at times almost experimental work, nowhere as consistent, uniform, or in the pocket as her earlier records. If you have expectations based on previous records (not unreasonable), then this will almost undoubtedly not live up to them.
But that means she is painting with a broader palate, and sometimes that takes getting used to; it is indeed possible that with a few years time, Not Too Late will look like Norah's creative breakthrough, maybe something like Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom. When I first heard Come Away With Me, my immediate reaction was to go and listen to my Rickie Lee Jones records again, because I thought that, as likable as it was, it was derivative. But what you hear on Not Too Late is an artist finding her own voice.
If you are a fan, then of course you ought to pick this up (and in my opinion, the price is right.) If you are just coming to Norah's work, then (a) where have you been; and (b) you really should start with Come Away With me. There are moments of sublime beauty here ("Not My Friend"), and I have a feeling this album will sound very different after I've let it "breathe" a few months. It does not scale the heights of her first two main records on the "I Instantly Love This and So Will You"-o-meter. Where it falls out in time, we'll just have to wait and see. But I do think that whatever she does from here, this record points the way.
on March 16, 2007
This album is another solid performance from one of my favorites.
I have listened to it many many times and I like it better as listen to it more. Once again we have the voice and the piano. There are a few new moves she shows us but nothing heart stopping.
At the end of the day I don't think most of us care what she sings frankly, her voice is addicting and is like a drug to us. Oh you say you wish she would sing something different and stretch her talent and grow and yada yada but most of us would listen to her no matter what she sings because you become so addicted to the voice and sound that it doesn't really matter if she is singing an old country song like Cold Cold Heart, an early rockabilly like Love Me (from the Little Willies) a Bob Dylan number or somthing of her own composition. In the end it is just the soothing that we want and that is what she does. Her music is sometimes interesting, sometimes a little boring but always soothing. Even if she is talking about a broken heart and lost love she is making us feel like with her voice to hang on to we can make it.
So I love her and listen to whatever she puts out. I am not enough of a music expert to judge her artistically, I like what I like and if it sounds good to me I say it is good. Norah..you are as good as it gets.
on March 13, 2007
Like her 2004 sophomore effort, "Feels Like Home," Norah Jones' latest maintains the sound that brought her national acclaim while still furthering her artistic endeavors.
"Not Too Late" proves she is not given to relying on a cash- cow formula; she not only continues to add inflections of country like last time around, but she eschews the American songbook in favor of a uniformly original array of songs -- all of which she co-wrote. This aids the record's warm, intimate atmosphere, which glimmers and glows despite the absence of the late legendary producer, Arif Mardin.
The slinky blues of "Thinking About You" is the ideal lead single. With its plaintive melody, organic jazz horns and restrained yet expressive vocals, it is musical chocolate cake. "Sinkin' Soon," meanwhile, is the most perplexing track. With its curious lyrics ("Like the oyster crack in the stew/The honey in the tea/Like the wheel of cheese high in the sky/We're gonna be sinkin' soon), the song sways and jerks with Jesse Harris (writer of her monster hit "Don't Know Why") on banjo and drummer Andy Borger working pots and pans. It continues the theme of fame's fickle nature that began with "Carnival Town" on her last LP.
In spite of her popularity with white collar right-wingers, Jones is not afraid to infuse her music with passionate liberal beliefs. With its lush, nervous mix of pianos and guitars, "Wish I Could" is the story of a lonely war widow and even lonelier other woman ("She says love in the time of war's not fair/He was my man but they didn't care/I don't tell her that I once loved you too"), while "Broken" finds a soldier irrevocably hardened by war ("He's got blood on his shoes and mud on his brim/Did he do it to himself or was it done to him?").
"My Dear Country," with a cabaretlike interlude, waxes on a terrifying election and a "deranged" politician without naming names:
"I cherish you my dear country/I love all the things that you've given me/And most of all that I am free/To have a song that I can sing/On election day."
The soothing "Wake Me Up" appropriately follows with its resigned, world-weary attitude, bringing in sounds of the heartland that continue in "Rosie's Lullaby" and the fun-loving "Be My Somebody," the latter marked by cheeky lyrics: "Last night was a record to be broken/It broke all over the kitchen floor."
"Little Room" attempts to shed her fuddy-duddy image with sexual undertones, while "Not My Friend" finds her safe in her own company -- not content to maintain a relationship with someone who wishes her unhappiness.
"The Sun Doesn't Like You" and "Until the End" are full of grace and character, and "Not Too Late" closes the disc with spare piano/vocal simplicity. Its optimistic message provides a perfect conclusion and its overwhelmingly pristine melody makes it an instant classic.
If "Come Away With Me" was rich, delicious comfort food, "Not Too Late" is more complex and sophisticated. Making artistic leaps and bounds, Jones proves that she is not a Grammy guzzler laughing all the way to the bank -- she is an artist's artist.
This limited-edition version contains a DVD jam-packed with goodies, most notably the eye-popping video for "Sinkin' Soon," while iTunes has an exclusive alternate version of the aforementioned track available.
on January 30, 2007
Following the success of Norah Jones's first two albums, 2001's "Come Away With Me" and 2004's "Feels Like Home", (which sold around 17 million and 10 million copies respectively), I'm sure I'm not the only fan who's been wondering whether that level of success can be sustained and what she would do next, i.e. would she stick to her established formula and risk being savaged by the critics for "playing safe", being "dull and boring" and inducing slumber ("sleepytime pop" is how one newspaper critic recently described her music) or would she branch out and try something new, and risk alienating settled and comfortable (not to mention lazy) fans like me?
The answer to the first question remains to be seen of course - after a couple of listens, I'm unsure as to whether this is a better album than the previous two - but happily, in regard to the second one, I think it's safe to say Jones has done both. She still sounds like the Norah we all love but she has made slight changes to her style in what, to this listener, sounds like a clever attempt to expand artistically without ruffling the feathers of her core audience. There's a new producer at the helm in Lee Alexander (Arif Mardin sadly passed away late last year) but while there's no overt new sound to speak of, there is a definite sense of a change in mood. The jaunty "Sinkin' Soon" has a darker edge and a sense of foreboding about it that's new, for instance, even though it is essentially a love song. It's a lot more percussive too. Things get slightly more electronic, even funky for a couple of minutes, on "Thinking About You", her most close-to-formula song on here and similarly, on "Be My Somebody". She nibbles at getting political on songs like "Wish I Could" and "My Dear Country" but she refrains from actually biting. On the former she sings: "Love in the time of war isn't fair/ He was my man but they didn't care". She sails a bit closer to the wind on the latter: "Nothing is as scary as election day," she sings, and later, "Who knows, maybe the plans will change/ Who knows, maybe he's not deranged." Further than many might have expected but I'm sure they'll be those who'll say she could've gone the distance.
And I do question the wisdom of the whistling on "Little Room".
But mostly there are no surprises here. Overall, the sound is a little drier maybe, with more acoustic guitar and cello than I recall hearing on her previous works but it's Norah Jones, still essentially the same but just a little different. Is she pop, is she jazz, is she country or is she folk? Maybe I'm getting too old to care but I just find attempts to categorise her boring now. Whatever she does, she does damn well and what's more, she makes it all seem so effortless. Her creamy voice never seems to rise above a whisper, a sonic caress, the kind of things lullabies are made of. (Maybe the sleepytime pop critic had a point after all). I put on my Norah Jones and I am immediately and very easily able to forget the madness going on all around me. The world feels like an easy, gentle place where everything is all right. Well worth paying $9.99 for, in my view.
Norah Jones and her music seem to be very polarising, if the reviews on this site are anything to go by. It seems people either love her or hate her. I love her of course and in my book, any female singer/songwriter who can achieve the level of commercial success that she has without her videos on heavy rotation on MTV, her airbrushed face (and body in skimpy dresses) plastered all over glossy magazines or a canny PR machine frenetically making sure she remains at the forefront of our collective consciousness, surely has to be doing something right.
on February 1, 2007
I was so excited to see Norah had a new CD coming out that I pre-ordered it. BIG mistake! I'm not doing that again with NJ. The first album was incredible, the second almost as good but this third one I'm having trouble even getting through the whole thing. I like mellow music but this is ridiculous, I'm falling asleep! I am making myself listen to the album a few times, but besides a couple of songs that are just ok, I am not really enjoying it. I'm fighting myself to keep from forwarding to the next track in mid-song. Most of the songs sound the same and I can't tell one from the next. To the reviewers who insist you have to read the lyrics... Yes lyrics are important but this is music, if I can't bare to listen to it, what's the point? The magic of the first album is no where to be found in this one.
My advice: Listen to it before you buy it because obviously there are some people who love this cd, maybe you are one of those few.
on February 1, 2007
I stand amazed at the reviews of this album. They miss the mark... by a mile! Some folks want to make Norah Jones into something she just ain't. She is what she is; a fine singer, and now song writer. Her tempos have generally been slow before. I just don't think people are listening to the lyrics - thoughtful, original and reflective. That she wrote them herself shows tremendous growth. One person wrote this is an album to make love by. Oh pleeeeeeease. She is also not a cool jazz performer. She doesn't fill a specific niche. This is what I like; she combines jazz, country, folk, soul, et al. This is also a wonderfully recorded album by Blue Note - imaging, soundstage, and presence to boot. Blue Note took their time in making this one - thanks. Hey, if this isn't your bag, move on.
on January 31, 2007
Norah Jones' latest album may not win any new fans, but it won't scare away her present ones, either. It's the usual low-key, mellow, effortless affair we've come to expect from this winsome chanteuse. The difference is that this time out, all the songs are originals (most co-written with bassist-boyfriend Lee Alexander, but some penned solo). And she does a capable job, even if some of the lyrics are rather simplistic ("You seem really glad that I am sad"). Oh well, we can't all be Joni Mitchell. There are some standout songs, though, like "Sinkin' Soon", a New Orleans-flavored tune with whimsical food imagery and a political message. Norah's dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs also comes through in "My Dear Country", and the love song "Wish I Could". In fact, there is a political undercurrent in much of her work here, though it's presented subtly in the music. Of course there's romance too, in songs like "Be My Somebody". Melodically, these songs are strong across the board, though none of them will make you want to get up and dance (well, maybe slow-dance). But my advice to Norah is not to abandon the standards and others' contemporary tunes. I think she's at her best when she mixes original and interpreted material, like Bonnie Raitt does. Bottom line? Get it if you're a Norah fan (grab the specially-priced CD/DVD edition if you can). But it's also a safe bet for any fan of mellow, piano-driven, "torchy" music.
I remember when Norah won the grammy for "Come Away With Me". At that time, she stated something to the effect of "this wasn't even a real album ,it was just a demo", or something like that. But, the thing is, it WORKED. It showcased her amazing talent and her wonderful voice. Her talent is great enough that it doesn't need anything more than a demo--we're not talking Britney Spears here. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill since.
Her two albums since her debut have suffered from "studio-ization". Her voice is not as clear on the last two albums, and on her 2nd album, her voice was ruined by the mix which was drowned by studio garbage. (The right kind of studio-ization works for some kinds of music, like M. Ward for example, but just not for Norah.) This, her 3rd album, is a little bit better than the 2nd mix-wise (though still way below the first), but not as strong song-wise. The couple of best songs on this album are, unfortunately, barely on par with the worst songs on the first album.
Norah Jones proved she can write great songs, as demonstrated by "Come Away With Me", however, in her attempt to write or co-write ALL of the songs on this latest CD proved that she also still has a LONG way to grow. It seems that she would have been better off singing more songs from the likes of Jesse Harris or others, while letting her songwriting talents grow in the background. After all, Elvis was great because he had a great voice and a great interpretation style, not because of his songwriting abilities. At this point, the same applies to Norah. If she writes a great song like "Come Away With Me", then fine, include it on the CD, but the songs on this CD are, quite frankly, boring. And, yes, I've been listening to this CD off and on since its release date, but it just doesn't do it.
I haven't given up on Norah yet because I still like her and have great hopes for her, but I wish she'd realize just what it was that made her debut so great. It didn't need what I call studio-ization because the songs were great and the talent was greater. There's no need to mess with the sound here for radio-friendliness, just let the talent shine & choose great songs, no matter who they're written by, and she'd be fine.
That doesn't mean that she has to keep on doing the same things--I certainly encourage growth in music, but just realize where the greatness currently lies: her singing.
on April 25, 2007
As good as an artist that Norah Jones is, one thing I couldn't understand is why she appeared to keep dropping off the face of the Earth after releasing two singles. At any rate, she came back with Not Too Late, and if you're already a fan of hers, this album definitely won't change your mind.
I noticed that a few of the songs have more accessible themes than her previous albums; maybe Norah wanted to keep people from thinking that all her songs blend into each other. "My Dear Country" is an interesting take on the otherwise played-out political theme, while "Wish I Could" and "Wake Up" are nice acoustic tracks. And while "Not My Friend" doesn't look like much on paper, it proves to be a highlight after all once you hear it sung.
I wasn't expecting to find a funky song like "Be My Somebody" on a Norah Jones album, but it works very well. But there are also standard mellow songs that impress, like "Little Room", "Thinking About You" and the title track.. In fact, the only reason I knocked off half a star is because the horn section during the break of "Sinkin' Soon" sound a little odd. Aside from that tiny misstep, Norah proves that indeed it's not too late to add another album to her list of masterpieces.