Saturday, December 26, 2009


Recently on The Morning Jolt with Larry Flick on SIRIUS XM's OutQ channel (the show No Expiration contributes to every Wednesday morning at 9 am ET), we were discussing Norah Jones' latest album, The Fall. Larry expressed some surprise that I am such a Norah Jones fan. Well, I am!

As I said to Larry, in this over caffinated, slutted-out world of pandering entertainment, I like Norah's calm approach. But more than that, she's making music that she likes. She isn't just making soft rock because it sells to old people. Her music is really subtle and beautiful, and she is inspired by the right people, Willie and Dolly and Brother Ray and Billie and Hank (I).

Her debut album, 2002's Come Away With Me, has sold over 20 million copies, but did it in the most organic way: people just liked the songs. Didn't matter if she wrote them (many of them, including "Don't Know Why," she didn't). But the way she sang them, it didn't matter. She was like 20 years old, but sang with an old soul, and did songs like "Cold, Cold Heart" convincingly at a time that most "country" singers barely knew who Hank Williams (I) was. If I had been a Grammy voter at the time, I don't know if I would have voted for Norah's album over, say, Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, but I ain't mad at her either. In the time after that album came out, she covered Pasty Cline, Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton -- all convincingly -- and also collaborated with Andre 3000 on a song from OutKast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below album. She also collaborated with Willie Nelson, and they would go on to work with other many more times throughout the decade.

I remember interviewing her for VH1 on the day that the followup, 2004's Feels Like Home, came out. I can't imagine what kind of pressure that would be -- being 20-something and having to follow up a 20 million selling album. She seemed so chill, and we mainly talked about The Band (Garth Hudson and Levon Helm guested on the album). Then she invited me to her gig that night -- with The Little Willies, a country group made up by her and her backing band. She mentioned that the cover charge was like $5 or whatever. I couldn't believe it: she's responsible for promoting the followup to one of the biggest debuts in history, and she's playing in a cover band that night! But I think that's how she is: she enjoys the luxury that her success affords her, but doesn't let that success define her or dictate what she wants to do. As with Alicia Keys, I kind of felt like, "Well, if there has to be a twenty-something multi-milionaire, I don't mind it being her."

In 2005, Norah duetted with Ray Charles on what would be his final album, Genius Loves Company. The song was the album's first -- and main -- single, "Here We Go Again," which provided Brother Ray with his final classic song. It must have been amazing to have been part of that. After that, Norah became a pretty in-demand collaborator, working on albums by the Foo Fighters and Ryan Adams.

In 2006, she got to get away from being Norah Jones for a while by putting out an album with The Little Willies and touring (they opened for Ryan Adams, which probably helped to take some focus off of her). After that, was more collabos, with Bonnie Raitt, Peeping Tom (the project featuring Mike Patton of Faith No More) and a particularly lovely duet with Wyclef Jean, "Any Other Day." She's become quite the hip-hop hook singer - she's also worked with Talib Kweli and Q-Tip (see the video for their song, "Life Is Better," here). And even The Lonely Island, showing her oft-overlooked sense of humor. Speaking of which, there's also her "punk rock" band, El Madmo.  Not really punk rock per se, but actually a good guitar-oriented, fun, band: their self-titled album came out in 2008.  Of course, this year, she released The Fall, which is another great album.  It features her working with new musicians and trying new things, which is good for her.  And by the way, check out the bonus tracks on iTunes, which include covers of Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" and Wilco's "Jesus Etc."

Even with her forays into acting (she starred in Ang Lee's My Blueberry Nights) you never feel like she's sold out (whatever that means anymore). I think she's a great artist, and she will have a lot more to say in the coming decades.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James
Steve Earle
Ben Harper
Alicia Keys

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