Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Sweet Success: Stephanie Merritt on Why Norah Jones's Album Is Not Just "Dinner-Party Music"

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Sweet Success: Stephanie Merritt on Why Norah Jones's Album Is Not Just "Dinner-Party Music"

Article excerpt

The extraordinary success of her debut album, Come Away With Me, made Norah Jones the target of a certain kind of musical snobbery, as if the cachet of signing to John Coltrane's Blue Note label was cancelled out by the posters of her that appeared all over the windows of Woolworths. Jones's husky, jazz-flavoured songs were sniffily described by some as "dinner-party music", meaning that it was pleasant, melodic and didn't demand your full attention. But if sales of 18 million attested to the likeability of the album, the eight Grammys it picked up in 2002 were vindication of Jones's music as far more than the perfect background accompaniment to conversations about north London primary schools.

Now, still only 24, Jones has had to face difficult-second-album syndrome more than most, but it would be hard to imagine a more apt continuation than Feels Like Home. Produced, like her first album, by Arif Mardin, it is a fully collaborative effort featuring original songs by each member of Jones's touring band, including four that Jones has co-written with her partner, the bass player Lee Alexander.

Although "jazzy" is the easiest adjective to pin on Jones's music, Feels Like Home has taken a bold turn towards Nashville. Dolly Parton makes a guest appearance on the jauntiest and most explicitly country of the songs, "Creepin' In", and there is an achingly sweet cover of "Be Here to Love Me" by the late blues and country poet Townes Van Zandt. In proper country ballad tradition, it's an album full of lost love, broken hearts, absent daddies and wistful yearning.

This is largely down to the beauty of Jones's distinctive voice. She could sing "Anarchy in the UK" and have you weeping with nostalgia into your Jack Daniel's (in a recent interview, she said that she hankers to join a rock'n'roll band, so the day may yet come). …

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