Easy Jazz meets Country twang in this smoothest of introductions to the wonderful...
Kathryn Shackleton 2002-11-20
Imagine the voice of a husky Eva Cassidy, or Macy Gray after deep-tissue massage, singing to you in an empty bar late at night. That's Norah Jones on her debut album, Come Away With Me. Though released on Blue Note, it's not quite jazz. It's a set of country-blues ballads more reminiscent of 'Eric Clapton Unplugged'.
Come Away With Me acknowledges its roots in tracks by country music's Hank Williams and J.D.Loudermilk. Hank's "Cold Cold Heart" is delicately jazz-flavoured, with skeletal instrumentation, a syncopated bass riff and Norah's voice the texture of suede; while J.D. Loudermilk's "Turn Me On" reveals a grittier edge.
Most of the other numbers here were written by Norah and her posse, and feature her light touch on piano. "Feelin' the Same Way" and "Lonestar" by Norah's bassist boyfriend, Lee Alexander, have simple melodic lines and lyrics which don't warrant scrutiny, but the subtle and sensitive vocal performances elevate them. Tom Waits could be hiding in the shadows in the best song on the album, "I've Got to See You Again" by guitarist Jesse Harris. Here, the combination of Norah's controlled vocals and strains of mournful gypsy jazz violin evoke a dark mood which turns to nostalgia in "Painter Song" with its folky accordion and Fairground Attraction-style rhythm section.
As Norah and producer Arif Mardin were switching out the lights in the recording studio, waving goodbye to the band and heading for the bar, they must have realised 'Dammit, we didn't record any jazz!' That would explain the last track on the album - 'The Nearness of You'. It's an intimate cocktail lounge portrait of the jazz standard, with a soulful edge; just Norah accompanying herself on piano - simple but tasteful.
If you're looking for out-and-out jazz you'll be disappointed with Come Away With Me. It doesn't swing, it sways. But Norah has such a feel for the music that she can make her voice soar and carry you with her, then deposit you gently back in your living room. The bare bones instrumentation is a perfect vehicle for her, and her timing and feel are just right. Try it.