How does a young jazz artist follow-up and debut release that sold 17 million copies and garnered six, count them, six Grammy Awards?
Norah Jones answered her well-received recording Come Away With Me with the comfortable as quilt Feels Like Home. In its first week of release, the sophomore recording sold one million-plus copies, making Bruce Lundvall and the EMI suits some of the happiest men alive. There is really no downside to this. Whether Ms. Jones is jazz or country or the brilliant syntheses of the two is totally beside the point. The exposure for the label, for jazz, and for jazz musicians is priceless. And that Feels Like Home is a beautifully rendered recording is gravy.
Two things are immediately apparent on the first listening to Feels Like Home. First, this recording is not Come Away With Me II ; and second, Norah Jones allows her Oklahoma/Texas experiences to filter through her fine musical aesthetic in some charming and cleverly inventive ways. Related to the latter observation is the confidence with which Ms. Jones plays piano. While acquainted with classical and jazz training, she has a solid piano style that owes more to the barrelhouse than the concert stage.
"In the Morning" echoes both Bobbie Gentry’s "Ode to Billy Joe" and the Doors' "LA Woman." The late Townes Van Zandt’s "Be Here to Love Me" is transformed into a lazy 21st Century country song perfectly composed for electric piano, Adam Levy’s electric guitar and The Band’s Garth Hudson on accordion. Bassist Lee Alexander’s "Creepin’ In" is the unlikey but supremely effective duet with Dolly Parton and contains some of the most spirited guitar playing of the recording, owing much to Parton’s bluegrass leanings.
The original compositions on this recording shine particularly brightly. In addition to the above-mentioned, the Jones/Alexander collaborations "Sunrise" and particularly "Toes" reveal a innocent yet powerful sensuality, clean-scrubbed and beautiful. The ballad "Humble Me" was written by guitarist Kevin Breit and is performed as a trio with Jones and Alexander, with Breit on resonator guitar. It is a plaintive song about loss perfectly captured by the dobro and pump organ.
I suspect that Feels Like Home may best be categorized as a country album. However, it benefits from its Blue Note roots and jazz sensibilities by not being included in the banal, obscene category that encompasses contemporary country music. Therefore, call it what you will, I will call it music, Damn Good Music.