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Norah Jones – Day Breaks

October 30, 2016

It is hard to call yourself an early adopter of Norah Jones given her 2002 debut was a huge success (at least 26 million copies and 8 Grammys – she was the Adele of her time). Everyone was an early adopter.

I like to claim I beat the tsunami of Norah Jones fans by several months. I first discovered her on a 2001 cameo on jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter’s album Songs From The Analog Playground. She covered one of my favorite songs: Roxy Music’s “More Than This.”  I had no idea who she was and I was enchanted. I anticipated Come Away With Me not only because of the Hunter cameo, but due to some pre-release hype I had read that suggested that this unknown’s new album would have all the ingredients I love. It lived up to the hype and is one of my all-time favorite albums.

Norah Jones never had the ambition to be “Norah Jones” and so she has been trying to deflect her early success by continuously reinventing herself. This album is billed as Come Away With Me reprised. But from my perspective it is Come Away With Me 2.0: new and improved.   Over the years she has become a better singer, a better songwriter and a more adventurous arranger. Most of all she has a confidence and swagger that was missing in her early career.

Day Breaks opens with “Burn” which is straightforward jazz. Jones at the piano, a storied jazz drummer and acoustic bassist ( Brian Blade and John Patitucci),  vocals that nod to Billie Holiday,  a Frank Shorter sax solo and a pinch of a Hammond B-3. Best of all noir lyrics:

The plot begins with you

And me in dark lit rooms

Your cigarette cuts through

I wear it like perfume

A treat on this album, and on this track in particular, is the work of sax genius Wayne Shorter. I have read that one of Jones motivations with this release was to record a jazz album in order to work with Shorter. Shorter is a great accompanist of women vocalist. My first exposure to Shorter was is work with Joni Mitchell so he is no stranger to adventurous jazzy pop singers.

“Tragedy” is a lethargic soul song – think of a female Ray Charles “on the nod.”

“Flipside” is again soulful, but this time caffeinated. The cut has a more prominent B3 – this time with the great Dr. Lonnie Smith at the controls.

“It’s A Wonderful Time For Love” gives Dianna Krall a run for her money.

“And Then There Was You” is a classic sounding ballad that fits Jones nonchalance perfectly. There are strings to give it an even more retro feel.

Side one ends with a Neil Young cover: “Don’t Be Denied.”  So far side one has been Jones originals (with various cowriters). “Don’t Be Denied” is an obscurity in the Young catalog – a song from the out of print rarity Time Fades Away. It is one of Young’s most personal songs recalling his famous father splitting from the family as boy to Neil’s own success in the Buffalo Springfield. A tale that I am sure must resonant with Jones. Jones gives the cover her country-fried jazz approach.

Side two opens with the titular track. “Day Breaks” has more contemporary feel than the rest of the album and would not have been out-of-place on the Danger Mouse produced Little Broken Hearts (2012). It ends with a really cool Wayne Shorter solo.

“Peace” is a gorgeous ballad that again has a Billie Holiday feel. This is a Horace Silver cover.

“Once I Had A Laugh” has a nice languid Nola feel.

“Sleeping Wild” is classic Jones – wistful.

“Carry On” is the lead single from the album. It recalls the feel of her debut, but with greater maturity.

The album concludes with “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower),” a Duke Ellington cover. It is basically an instrumental featuring  Jones humming and  Wayne Shorter’s sax.

I have every Norah Jones album (and most of her cameos and other projects), but none of them quite enchanted me the way her debut Come Away With Me did unit now.  Day Breaks is a masterpiece – pulling together everything she has learned over the last 15 years as a pop star.  It is jazz and it is pop.  It is challenging, yet easy.  It is mature, yet fresh.  Jones is often dismissed as creating merely pretty music, jazz-light and worst of all boring (Snorah Jones).  Jones is deceptive – there is a great depth to her music that can get disguised by its superficial beauty.  Listen carefully to her vocal phrasing, her easy touch on the keyboard, exquisite arrangements, amazing sidemen and you will begin to understand what a “musician’s musician” she really is.


From → Music Reviews

  1. This is an amazing review. Day Breaks is hands down my favourite song from the album closely followed by Flipside, Carry On and Tragedy. I love how she imbibed organ, sax and piano in the new record. Marvellous!

  2. great review and you more than have my interest

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