Norah Jones: Day Breaks

Photo: Danny Clinch

Norah Jones returns to her roots on her latest album with mixed results.

Norah Jones

Day Breaks

Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2016-10-07
UK Release Date: 2016-10-06

To a certain extent, Norah Jones’s debut album, Come Away With Me, would be as much of a curse as it was a gift. While immensely successful as it rode on the wave of adult contemporary jazz-pop that was flourishing at the time with the likes of John Mayer, it also painted Norah Jones as a jazz vocalist with no room for much else. As the years went by, Mayer was able to incorporate blues, country, and folk into his musical repertoire with ease, but Jones would never be able to match the overwhelming success of Come Away With Me. On Day Breaks, however, Norah Jones finally returns to fish from the same well that made her debut so excellent, and regains some of the magic she lost within the past decade.

Now, Day Breaks is by no means a carbon copy of Come Away With Me, and its best moments don’t hold a candle to the worst from its predecessor, but that’s to be expected. It is simply impossible to replicate the sheer simplistic beauty of a song like “Don’t Know Why”, or the masterful guitar work in “Seven Years”. Instead, Jones’s latest album takes comfort in returning to the singer’s musical beginnings, as shown through songs like “Burn”, “Sleeping Wild” and “It’s a Wonderful Time For Love”, songs that sound like the New Yorker created them and performed them in her living room. They’re intimate and moving, especially as the deep acoustic bass lines complement Jones’s mature, emotional-yet-controlled singing style.

Other highlights include the title track and “Don’t Be Denied”, the latter of which is one of three cover songs here. Both are solid piano ballads that give the album much needed energy, and Jones has an interesting twist on the Neil Young cover by singing in the perspective of a woman instead of a man. Similarly, “Day Breaks” gains its substance via a warm horn solo on the back end of the song that carries the track to a warm and calming resolution. It’s through songs like these where one realizes that Norah Jones still has the vocals, talent and musicianship that she did when she released her first album.

The other two covers, “Peace” and “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower)”, though, are not nearly as good as “Don’t Be Denied”, and feel superfluous and unnecessary within the album. The former is long, winding and melodic, a nice and delicate song but one that lacks the substance of the other tracks on the album. “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower)” suffers from this same issue, except Norah Jones doesn’t even sing on the song, and opts instead to close her album with an instrumental that could never compete with Ellington’s original, no matter how hard it tries. Ironically, “Carry On”, the second-to-last song on the album, would have been the perfect closer to Day Breaks as organs play behind Jones’s powerful vocals. While Day Breaks can be relaxing at times, it also borders on being sloppy on rare occasions such as these.

There are a couple more instances of sloppy perfomances in Day Breaks, most notably in “Tragedy” and “Once I Had A Laugh”. Even though “Tragedy” is a solid song musically, the repetitive and dull nature of the lyrics drags it down. “Once I Had A Laugh”, on the other hand, feels like a light breeze. It may provide a nice, momentary feeling of bliss, but it is ultimately inconsequential and forgettable.

It would be remiss to dismiss this album as a mere copycat of one of its predecessors. There are some moments, especially on the cover songs, where Norah Jones tries to explore new territory, and for that, I commend her. But for all her exploration and discovery, it is ultimately by following her jazz-pop roots that she enchants and captivates her audience the most. Sometimes, the best plan is simply to stick to what you know.






Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.