Okayfirst things first. Yes, in my opinion, the strikingly beautiful, vaguely exotic Norah Jones is worthy of the buzz and publicity that she is receiving. But is she a jazz singer? Probably not but I don't know why anyone should care. Her singing is certainly jazz influenced. Jones does not use her lovely voice as a horn at the expense of lyrics. Jones is a natural storyteller and the stories that she chose to tell on her impressive debut, Come Away With Me, have a distinctly country quality, including the Hank Williams' classic "Cold, Cold Heart." Most of the other selections are originals by bassist Lee Alexander, guitarist Jesse Harris or by Jones herself. I am not a fan of 'originals,' since I find many of them to be without qualitative substance, but Alexander, Harris and Jones each has a strong gift for melody, simple yet elegant progressions, and evocative lyrics. I'm especially impressed with Alexander's "Lonestar," a song that I'm sure other singers will rapidly discover. Jones' own title track "Come Away With Me" is intimate and most beautiful. Hoagy Carmichael's beloved standard "The Nearness of You," is included. Jones solo piano accompaniment (she has a degree in jazz piano from the University of North Texas) on this bewhiskered evergreen is admirable.
Jones is backed seamlessly by some highly regarded jazz talent, including guitarists Adam Levy and Bill Frisell, drummers Brian Blade and Dan Rieser, organist Sam Yahel, accordionist Rob Burger, and violinist Jenny Scheinman, amongst others. Jones plays piano on all tracks. Harris and Alexander also play on every track and, as noted, serve as the chief songwriters. There's a touch of Rickie Lee Jones and maybe a little Billie Holiday in Norah Jones' honey-and-smoke voice, as well as the quality and vulnerability of Eva Cassidy. Jones' voice is captivating and is the most distinctive attribute of her singing. Another notable attribute is her natural, relaxed phrasing which represents an assuredness and maturity not often found in 23-year old singers.
Duke Ellington, who reveled in diversity, often employed the phrase "beyond category" when referring to individuals that rose above the labels that we so often place on our artists. Norah Jones is truly beyond category and she is without genre. She resides where the lines between country, folk, pop, rock and jazz are blurred to the point of erasure. I get the distinct impression that she can sing anything'folk, blues, pop, jazz, R&B, gospel'and make it sound like it was the only music that mattered.
In a recent interview, Norah Jones stated, "I don't know if the music in my CD can be classified as jazz or even pop. Hopefully fans of both can appreciate it. In the end, it's all about the songs. I think they're all very strong songs." I agree and wish to add that Jones is a most welcome addition to the growing ranks of new, young vocalists who sing in tune, who tell the story and who choose interesting material. Jones apparent early success is not simply a triumph of savvy management and publicity. She has much to say and says it with unquestioned skills as a singer and songwriter. And, best of all, as Cole Porter might have said, Norah Jones' voice has gossamer wings.
From Hank Williams to Hoagy Carmichael, I highly recommend Norah Jones' debut CD.
Don't Know Why; Seven Years; Cold Cold Heart; Feelin' The Same Way; Come Away With Me; Shoot the Moon; Turn Me On; Lonestar; I've Got To See You Again; Painter Song; One Flight Down; Nightingale; The Long Day Is Over; The Nearness Of You.
Norah Jones- vocals, piano, electric piano; Lee Alexander- bass; Jesse Harris, Adam Levy, Tony Scherr, Adam Rogers, Kevin Breit- guitar; Dan Rieser- drums; Brian Blade- drums, percussion; Sam Yahel- organ; Rob Burger- pump organ, accordion; Jenny Scheinman- violin; Bill Frisell- electric guitar on "The Long Day is Over;" Kenny Wollesen- drums on "The Long Day is Over."
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