After hitting it big ten years ago with her debut disc Come Away With Me, Ms. Norah Jones has been slowly evolving more and more with each new album. Her second and third records followed much in the same vein as the first multiple Grammy-winning one, but little steps into unknown territory proved she wasn’t just a jazzy coffeehouse musician.
Collaborations with artists of all kinds, from country and hip hop, inspired 2010’s …Featuring album, and she found herself on various side projects like the Little Willies, an old-fashioned Country Western cover band. After her fourth disc, The Fall, where she mourned the loss of love and relationship, she agreed to a concept album, which would be the soundtrack to a movie that didn’t actually exist. Rome brought together the talents of producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), Italian composer Daniele Luppi, and Jack White. The collaboration brought her out of her comfort zone, proved that she could hang with some of the best in the indie crowd, and established a new direction to pursue.
Jones’s fifth album, Little Broken Hearts is a tremendous departure from the straightforward jazzy flows of Come Away With Me. After working with Danger Mouse, whose other projects have been as varied as Gnarls Barkley, Beck, and Broken Bells, she decided to have him produce her new disc, and the results couldn’t sound cooler. Her smokey soulful vocals laid over dreamy backbeats and echo-fuzz make for the perfect combination of mellow and cool.
First track “Good Morning” serves as the bridge to the gap between the old jazzy days and the Norah of today. Jones’s pretty vocals float over a light and airy electronic buzz and gentle strums for the perfect tune to sleep in to on a Sunday morning. That’s the last we hear of the coffee shop vibe, as “Say Goodbye” drops a signature Danger Mouse beat, and Jones’ moodiness and darker lyrics creep in for a song dismissing an ex-lover, singing “It ain’t easy to stay in love when you’re telling lies, so I’ll just have to take a vow and say goodbye.”
The album dances around the theme of breakups and moving on throughout the twelve tracks, but the biggest dichotomy comes between “She’s 22″ and “Miriam.” The first one ponders the man who cheated on her, and how it got to that point. She calmly arrives at the conclusion “I’d like to see you happy” while an electric guitar softly plays accompaniment. Later on “Miriam,” Jones actually confronts the “mistress” in about as dark and angry as we’ve seen her get before (which still seems pretty tame). She (still calmly) sings”You know you done me wrong. I’m going to smile when I take your life.”
Jones hints later that it may not be ALL her ex’s fault on “4 Broken Hearts,” where she sings about a dual bout of cheating. “After the Fall,” probably referring to both her previous album and the aftermath of her relationship, brings a smokey haze of a back beat to Norah’s somber vocals.
“Happy Pills” is the only “light” and upbeat tune on the album, but it definitely feels like it fits the mood of the album and possibly popping a prescription to deal with the pain. A playful beat accompanies Jones begging “Please just let me go now,” and you can hear just a hint of that Country twang she used with the Little Willies on tunes like her “Jolene” cover. It’s amazing how well the Burton/Jones formula works on this release, and it successfully challenges her listeners while not alienating them as she pushes her own musical limits to great new heights.
Try This Track: “Miriam”