Classy follow-up to multi-platinum Come Away With Me from new Bonnie Raitt
All the rumours were that Norah Jones was going up-tempo, raising fears that she might soon become indistinguishable from Pink, Michelle Branch and the other youthful representatives of post-millennium white American chick-rock. Yet, if anything, her second album is even mellower than Come Away With Me. More Bonnie Raitt than Avril Lavigne, the songs range from rustic blues (“In The Morning”) to Shelby Lynne-style sultry southern R&B (“What Am I To You”, featuring The Band’s Garth Hudson and Levon Helm).
There’s even a touch of neo-bluegrass on “Creepin’ In”, a duet with Dolly Parton. But anyone who reckons she’s a jazz singer will be disappointed to be kept waiting until the final track, on which she adds new words to Duke Ellington’s “Melancholia”. Those looking for Jones to develop as a songwriter will be more encouraged. On Come Away With Me, she wrote or co-wrote three songs. Here the number has doubled, including the first single, “Sunrise”. Among the covers are Tom Waits’ “The Long Way Home” and an affecting version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Be Here To Love Me”. A couple of years on the road has given her voice a lived-in patina, and she has that wonderful technique, common to so many great vocalists, of singing just behind rather than on the beat.
The simple-but-sophisticated production by Arif Mardin reflects his decades of pre-digital recording experience, and the intuitive playing of the band displays the benefits of being her regular touring outfit rather than a studio assemblage of hired guns. Yes, it’s an unchallenging and even deeply conservative record. But its class is positively aristocratic.