Nov 14, 2010
….Featuring, a new release from Norah Jones on Blue Note due on Tuesday, allows us to take a look at Ms. Jones in her role as collaborator. Since before she emerged on the music scene with Come Away With Me in 2002, she has been in demand by musicians who seek vocalists to augment their band, or simply a good foil with whom to interpret or color some material.
The recordings go as far back as Norah’s 2001 sessions with guitarist Charlie Hunter (a thrilling cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This”) to her duet with Ray Charles (“Here We Go Again”) in 2004 to more recent collaborations with Willie Nelson and Belle & Sebastian. The tracks range from country to light jazz to hip-hop (collaborations with Outkast and Q-Tip).
The end result confirms my opinion that Jones is best when she has strong material and strong arrangements to sing. I find her country and hip-hop experiments interesting but ultimately unsatisfying. Her duet with Sasha Dobson on “Bull Rider”, a song once recorded by Johnny Cash, is downright listless.
When she moves onto material like “Ruler of My Heart”, backed by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, or her collaboration with Herbie Hancock on “Court & Spark”, her voice – that elegant, smoky instrument – and phrasing are far superior. The Joni Mitchell cover allows her voice to compare favorably with an extended solo on soprano sax by Wayne Shorter. Her reading of the standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is similarly elegant, even if the thought of her being seduced by septuagenarian Nelson has a high “ick” factor.
One quick complaint – 18 tracks are a goodly amount, but where is Norah’s guest appearance with saxophonist Tim Reis on “Wild Horses”, which is among her finest performances? Her collaboration with Hunter on Nick Drake’s “Day is Done” is also absent, but two tracks from one Hunter CD may be asking too much. Watch for her version of the Drake song on an upcoming podcast.