A day after the release of her fifth studio album, Little Broken Hearts, Norah Jones took to the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre for the popular webcast series Live on Letterman. Over the course of the past decade, the 33-year old songstress has established a reputation for sweet and gentle ballads and a voice that is as easy on the ears as any, as is evident by her many appearances on Starbucks CD racks. While she has not completely abandoned the elements that have brought her success, her latest release still represents a departure from some of the loungier, sunnier songs that we have become familiar with. Firstly, as evidenced in the title, many of the lyrics revolve around break-up. Secondly, producer extraordinaire Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) was brought in for this project and with that we a different sonic atmosphere swirling around Jones’ always stellar voice.
For those who are already familiar with Jones previous collaborations with Danger Mouse on the spaghetti-western inspired Rome, it may take less time adjusting to the new songs. A darker, somewhat psychedelic, tone is also found more frequently and many of the newer tracks are enhanced greatly from multiple listens as layers unfold. Furthermore, guitars are heavily favored over keys, and like the tracks off of Rome, slides and vibrato have a major presence in the guitars sounds.
Norah Jones’ “Happy Pills”
The recently assembled band that accompanied Norah Jones on stage Wednesday night were picked out not only to recreate the moody atmospheres depicted on Little Broken Hearts, but to expand upon them even further and even add some dimension to Jones’ back catalog. At around 8 pm, Jones led four men (each with hair longer than her) to their set-ups on stage which included guitars, bass, keys and organs, and drums. After walking over to a bright red keyboard and exchanging a quick “thanks” with the crowd, Jones and the band jumped into “Say Goodbye,” the second single off of the new release.
Norah Jones seemed eager and deservedly proud to share these new tracks with the crowd; as they went on to play many of the first songs in sequence and played a set that would include a majority of the new tracks. The band provided a sharp and rugged edge to accompany Jones’ sweet voice and found plenty of room to explore within the confines of each track. The balance between psychedelic and country tones exchanged evoked Wilco at times and you could make a strong argument that if the world was introduced to Norah Jones this way, that she may have won over a completely different fanbase. “Happy Pills” is the bouncy and devious single from Little Broken Hearts and in it we see a more maniacal side to Jones that sharply contrasts our earlier perception of her. To have this song followed by “Miriam,” which was the also the arrangement for this performance as well as the album, displays the range of intricacies that can be found from her new material. The latter is a tender piano ballad accompanied by some frenetic and spacy electric guitar. The lyrics expand upon the theme of heartbreak even further, addressing the other girl in the equation; ‘Miriam’ and saying how she will repeat that name until she dies. After the conclusion of this song, Jones apologized with a wide grin on her face to anyone who may have had that name in the audience.
There’s still plenty to love for older fans here, a beautiful and tender “Sunrise,” showed some of the performer’s brighter side. Here we saw the Jones that we grew to love, delightedly plucking away at the piano. But just as soon as the song was over she was off to her adventurous ways again, strapping on a Fender for the psychedelic closer to her new album “All A Dream;” a song that seems to share much of the same DNA from her collaborations off of Rome. The Fender stayed on for “Come Away With Me” which closed the set before coming back out for a short encore.
Norah Jones seemed very comfortable switching around instruments all night, but the most important instrument; her voice, was clearly where she excelled and is why she is one of the most successful female artists of our generation. Her new sound and band are a very natural fit, and while it may represent a departure of sorts, her earlier roots are still very there, just reinterpreted through a different lens. We’re seeing a new side to her music that is exciting to watch unfold.
Written by Jesse Zryb
OurVinyl | Senior Writer