Norah Jones wasn’t supposed to be famous. She was supposed
to be one of those artists your fringe friend tells you to check
out because she’s pretty good. But things don’t always
work out like they should. Somehow the world decided that it wanted
to hear Ravi Shankar’s daughter mix jazz and folk in large
doses. Before you know it, she’s the next big thing. Two
years and 18 million albums later, it’s time for a new
release.

Her debut’s success is owed in large part to the fact that
she is so low-key and her music came as the perfect contrast to the
dramatics of the singers who dominate the pop landscape.

Norah picks up from some of the hints left from Come Away
With Me
on Feels Like Home while fleshing them out. The
foreshadowing of her country influences come to fruition as the
album’s tone is predominantly Americana. The shift away from
a more jazz-oriented sound is a brave move and will surely alienate
a great deal of listeners. Yet some of the strongest moments come
when she is most forthright with her affinity for the genres. The
up-tempo, knee-slappin’ Dolly Parton duet
“Creepin’ In” is actually one of the strongest
moments on the album. The enchanting lead single
“Sunrise” utilizes a sea of underlying bass, banjo and
piano that helps to capture the warmth of her voice, and her vocal
interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “Melancholia”
adds the lone “jazz” song, making it a highlight.

With no real reason to disturb the water, she brings producer
Arif Mardin on board again and puts on the songwriter cap as she
pens nearly half of the album’s 13 songs. Despite these
subtle shifts of genre and focus, the mood remains the same.

There is a feeling not so much of stagnation as of comfort and
ease with where she is musically. The songs discuss staying in bed,
dipping your toes in the water and pondering the trappings of love
— all the possible variations of stasis. It is all the
emotional equivalent of swinging on a porch in your backyard with
an ice cream cone, but who says that can’t be fun?

The unwavering reception of her last album was major praise and
critical acclaim as it is with this effort, and she’s still
only scratching the surface. She’s one bad break-up away from
a really great record.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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