Music

Norah Jones: Feels Like Home

Ari Levenfeld

Norah Jones

Feels Like Home

Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2004-02-10
UK Release Date: 2004-02-09
Amazon
iTunes

For a sultry torch singer who releases her work on an old, smoky jazz label, Norah Jones has a surprising amount in common with the Strokes. For one, both Jones and the group of New York hipsters released their debut albums mere months apart a couple of years back. Soon after they hit the CD racks, both records began multiplying like jack rabbits across the country, until it was nearly impossible to enter someone's house who did not possess one or the other, or both. Like the Strokes, Norah Jones's fans await her sophomore serving with eager anticipation. The only thing more difficult to do than sell as many records as Jones did the first time around is to make a follow-up record that's better and different. While the Strokes released Room on Fire late in 2003 to critical praise, many listeners complained that the record sounded a little too similar to their first album, Is This It.

Granted, after selling so many records on your first go around, it's difficult to choose what to do for an encore: Do you crank out a record that's more of the same, or do you sneak off and make the experimental noise album you've always wanted to? Luckily, Norah Jones is a jazz pianist first who happens to carry a torch for Billie Holiday and Ryan Adams. She also records for Blue Note Records, an 80-year-old label specializing in jazz by the likes of Horace Silver and Herbie Hancock. Certainly the executives at the label all benefited greatly from Come away with Me, Jones's debut. But it's hard to believe that anyone saw that coming. Blue Note is recognized as a record label that's actually more interested in the music rather than the units sold. This gives Jones a luxury that many pop artists simply don't have. So she might have had a little bit more freedom recording her new album, Feels Like Home, than other new artists possess.

By now, everyone knows that Jones, who grew up with her mother in Texas, is also the daughter of Ravi Shankar. On her way to selling 18 million copies of her debut, which hit the racks when Jones was a mere 22 years young, Come away with Me reeled in eight Grammy awards, and enough gigs to keep Jones and her band touring for two years straight. After cutting her teeth at such a young age, it's no wonder Jones wanted to make an album that at least alludes to feelings of comfort and familiarity. This is not to say that Feels Like Home feels, well, familiar. On the contrary, Jones selected a collection of songs that evoke feeling without reminding the listener that they heard them some place else -- like on the ubiquitous Come away with Me.

For a woman with such blatant name recognition, Norah Jones is incredibly equitable when it comes to incorporating her band members' writing. In part, this good deed will ensure a steady stream of publishing royalty income to the musicians who helped get her to the top. But it also answers several critics who speculated that Jones might not be much more than a pretty face with a pretty voice who happens to play a nice piano. Many of the hit songs on Come Away With Me were written by either Jesse Harris or Jones's boyfriend and bass player Lee Alexander. On Feels Like Home, Jones seeks to silence her critics immediately with the opening standout single "Sunrise", which she and Alexander penned together. The title of the tune lasts all day, giving Jones ample time to serenade her listeners. She suggests Billie Holiday with her voice here, which is complemented by acoustic guitar picking by Kevin Breit so fine it doesn't seem real.

It should go without saying that each track on Feels Like Home receives the attention of Norah Jones's exquisite voice. While many critics of the album complain about the slow pace of the music, relegating it to little more than background music, it's hard to believe that they were paying attention. There simply isn't another singer working in pop music now that holds a candle to Jones. You can throw her up against Britney or Beyoncé, Xtina, or Mariah -- any of the so-called divas who can "really" sing -- and she blows them all away. All the rest sound like all the rest compared to Jones' divine instinct for harmony and inflection. Of course, there are tracks on Feels Like Home where Jones proves herself especially exceptional. "Carnival Town" is a fine standout, with Nashville-style harmonizing that will place you on top of your convertible's backseat on a balmy summer evening, sipping lemonade and welcoming the sunset.

"Be Here to Love Me" is a Townes Van Zandt cover from his early album Our Mother of the Mountain that Jones resurrects with the help of the Band's Garth Hudson on accordion and a string section that's gone electric. With the heart of a country girl, Jones lends enough soul to this classic that you wish she'd make good on her promise to record an album of standards and favorites. Hudson performs again on the album, joined by former band mate Levon Helm on "What Am I to You?" The quality of Jones's voice resonates far beyond the mere 24 years she's been on earth. Here, she melts you with buttery sultriness that simply defies age.

"Creepin' In" finds Jones in a duet with legendary singer Dolly Parton, and together they provide the album's most energetic performance. "Creepin' In" also features more great acoustic guitar from Kevin Breit, and a steady rhythm section anchored by Lee Alexander's bass. The song is followed by one of the album's true highlights, "Toes", which Jones sings herself like a lullaby spiritual. It's deep and moody and yearning in a way that will change where you are at by the time Jones is done.

Jones decided to end the album by herself, with a cover of an old Duke Ellington song called "Melancholia", to which she added lyrics and re-titled "Don't Miss You At All". With just Jones's voice and her piano to take you out, she cradles you in loneliness and heartbreak. Her voice is spectacular, but again, she's more than just a pretty voice. Years of study gave her a deep understanding of how to play jazz. She's really a jazz musician who happens to have crossed over. This is the type of torch song that would have been just at home 50 or 60 years ago as it is today. To say that Jones is timeless at age 24 may be a bit of an overstatement. Here, she's not trying to keep up with the Strokes or beat the sophomore slump. She's just taking her time on a song for all seasons.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image