This music won’t change the world, but neither does it deserve to be cast from it as...
Chris White 2007
Norah Jones tends to polarise opinion among music listeners. Depending on your point of view, she is either the heavenly-voiced queen of sophisticated, chilled-out modern jazz or a bland, soulless dinner party soundtrack for people who don’t really like music, little more than a canny selector of cover versions with a famous sire in the shape of legendary sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.
To someone who has historically erred towards the latter camp, Not Too Late comes as a pleasant surprise. Ms Jones, though scarcely original and sometimes laid-back to the point of supine disinterest, has delivered an album of range and quality which goes some way towards establishing her as more than just a proficient interpreter of the work of others.
Not Too Late’s 13 tracks, all either written or co-written by the artist herself, meander engagingly across a variety of styles, although the vibe is predictably mellow throughout. “My Dear Country” sounds like a modern-day Billie Holiday, “Broken” employs brooding strings to winning effect and the title track is a simple, elegant piano-led ballad which is pretty without lurching into the cloying sentimentality of the Texan’s earlier recordings.
Musically, the album is tastefully understated, with occasional lap steel and banjo adding country-folk textures and an exuberantly sleazy trumpet solo lending real character to the gambolling New Orleans-style stomp of “Sinkin’Soon”. On the downside, Jones’s crystalline, silk glove of a voice remains angelic yet anonymous, and her lyrics, while hinting at political protest on “My Dear Country” seem unlikely to rival Dylan or Cohen for poetic gravitas in the foreseeable future.
Overall, although the album still contains a little too much inconsequential mid-tempo crooning to inspire a full conversion of the sceptics, Jones has nevertheless made an encouraging step forward in her artistic development, expanding her palette just enough to become more interesting without taking the risk of alienating the conservative coffee-table hordes who made her name. This music won’t change the world, but neither does it deserve to be cast from it as some of the singer’s most venomous detractors unjustly suggest.