[10 December 2013]
When the average listener thinks of the Everly Brothers, many thoughts come to mind. One is that if their music was a color, it would be beige. That isn’t meant as an insult. It is intended more to suggest a safe, mellow kind of sound. Certainly what you would expect from folk torch songs. That said, seeing that Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong were putting out a covers disc might lead some to scratch their heads. Would it be amazing? Would it be a train wreck? Norah doing this sort of thing seems normal, but Billie Joe? Not nearly so much. So all that considered, how does it actually sound?
Opening cut “Roving Gambler” is a fine piece. It features sparse soundscapes at first, then touches of harmonica drop in at just the right places. That kind of precision makes this cut, and the whole album itself, feel a touch sterile. Folk music is the sort of music that benefits from being played in a bit more of a rough-around-the-edges style. This simple flourish can be seen even in just the last 40 seconds of the first track. The overly precise nature of the sound takes a second off to let some free-wheeling playing rule the roost. The careful precision comes back again, but sounds a bit more fitting for love-lorn ballad “Long time gone”. There are scattered moments throughout the remainder of the record where the music flows a bit less rigidly, but they are few and far between.
What makes up for this over-attention to detail is the dynamic between Jones and Armstrong. On paper, the two of them together might sound like a match made in hell. As mentioned before though, Armstrong shows off a far better range than one might expect. As for Jones, she definitely has the pipes that one would expect could be put to good use on this genre of music. “Oh so many years” is a track that shows off this blend well. It is no surprise that Armstrong sounds a bit more at home on this track. It is, after all, one of the more “rocking” tracks to be found here, such that anything on this album can be called that. The mix doesn’t always work. On “Barbara Allen” Armstrong seems to be straining a bit to stay in step with Jones. Fortunately, hiccups like this are rare. As it is, the sequence follows immediately after with “Rockin’ Alone (In an Old Rocking Chair)”, which shows off the smooth-as-velvet harmonies of the pair better than just about anything else on the album.
The end result is that Norah and Billie Joe paint a very pleasant shade of beige. Armstrong is most well known for his pop punk yelps delivered at the helm of Green Day. That said, it’s refreshing to hear his voice paired with more mellow fare. His is a good voice that too easily gets lost in the mix. Specifically, it gets lost on most late 2000s era Green Day discs, too often buried in the production. There are times when Armstrong’s tones seem to be mixed a bit too high above Jones, but only on a handful of songs. And when they mix well, they fit perfectly together. Well enough to make the listener pine for more? Die-hard fans, maybe, but for most, this will be a pleasant, faithful collection of covers. It will sound nice, but for the non die-hards, it will come, leave a good impression, then fade into the background soon after the disc stops spinning.