Norah Jones Two Needed Better Material

by Kevin Burton

   Had a quick notion a few years ago to poke my musical head out of the seventies and try some 21st-century artists.

   A friend recommended Maroon 5, John Mayer and Norah Jones. I loved the debut records from those three so much, I bought their follow-up records.

   Then for some reason I stuck them on a shelf, barely playing them. I’ve given them all a belated second listen in recent weeks.  Today I’m writing about “Feels Like Home” by Norah Jones. 

    If I were a painter and could paint my musical reverie, to paraphrase Jones, it might sound a lot like Come Away With Me, her critically acclaimed debut album. Her voice was Phoebe Snow 2.0. With her debut Jones reached a summit Snow and many others could only gaze upon from below. 

   But three Grammies on your first effort is going to be hard to follow. 

   The reviews I heard for Feels Like Home at the time were not good.  Some were like this one I found on Wikipedia:

   “The Austin Chronicle gave it two stars out of five and said, ‘Material is everything to a chanteuse, and in contrast to Come Away With Me, the problem here is that Jones wrote/co-wrote almost half of the Home‘s 13 tracks.’”

   For an example of poor material, great artist, see also, Franklin, Aretha.

   One other review I found on Wikipedia: “The Guardian only gave it one star out of five and said that the album was ‘so inoffensive you have trouble remembering whether you put it on.’”

  That seems overly harsh. Yahoo music came closer to getting it right, saying “Recalling Come Away With Me only for Jones’s sultry voice, the album has its share of pleasant throwaways, but those are balanced by a handful of starkly beautiful and excellently arranged songs.”

   Anything bad I might say about Feels Like Home is only by way of comparison with Come Away With Me.  If the latter is transcendent and the former merely pleasant, shall we not accept it on its own terms and wait patiently for the next offering?

   In baseball they call it a sophomore slump, but they don’t give up on their first-year phenom. 

   “Sunrise” gets the album off to a great start (it won a Grammy). I also liked “Those Sweet Words” and “Be Here to Love Me.” but there are not many on that level. 

   “Carnival Town” I found a miss, despite its beautiful harmonies. I rate it less than a pleasant throwaway, to use Yahoo’s term.

   On “In The Morning,” it’s hard to tell whether Jones is singing of a man or of a very bad habit.  “Humble Me” tries to be both sacred and secular and misses both.

   Anything with Norah Jones’ voice on it is worth listening to, just in case.  It’s like if you discover a record you didn’t know about by a favorite artist. You hear that voice and you’re like, “Wait a minute…”

   Sometimes you find a gem. Sometimes you find out why this particular disc got buried.

   For me, if you’re going to have a set with mostly slow tempos you will need to have something special there, be it melody, harmony, lyric or whatever, to keep you content in that slow groove.

  Jones’ is one of the rare voices you can’t mistake for anyone else’s. Think of this as a concert experience, Norah Jones, outdoors, under the stars. Hard to beat, no?   

   The voice of Dolly Parton is also one you can’t mistake for any other. Jones’ duet with Parton, “Creepin’ In”, is a pretty good song. The voices fit together well and it feels like fun.  But it’s not something I would expect on a second album.  Don’t you usually wait until your records stop selling and tours stop selling out to do duets to keep your name in the news? 

   Jones’ subsequent records have placed high on the charts, except her 2020 offering “Pick Me Up Off the Floor.” I plan to check out her later work to see what I’ve been missing. 

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