Come Away with Norah Jones

hile we’re on a “Norah Jones’ roll, we might as well make it a clean sweep. I got my copy of her debut album “Come Away with Me” on Thursday, and I’ve listened to it almost constantly.”You’ve probably heard “Don’t Know Why” on your favorite radio station. The first time I heard it on KPRI here in San Diego, it was arresting. Norah’s voice is smoky sweet and subtly powerful, but just as powerful was the piano accompaniment. I’ve long been a fan of country pianist Floyd Cramer, who played with such luminaries as Chet Atkins. The piano on “Don’t Know Why” sounds so much like Cramer; his style and grace, a musical maturity not found in many keyboard players today. I was astonished to learn that the sultry singer was also the accomplished pianist. But then, “Come Away with Me” is full of surprises; surprises, but no disappointments. It is a delightful collection from start to finish.

While we’re on a “Norah Jones‘ roll, we might as well make it a clean sweep. I got my copy of her debut album “Come Away with Me” on Thursday, and I’ve listened to it almost constantly.

Norah Jones' 'Come Away with Me'You’ve probably heard “Don’t Know Why” on your favorite radio station. The first time I heard it on KPRI here in San Diego, it was arresting. Norah’s voice is smoky sweet and subtly powerful, but just as powerful was the piano accompaniment. I’ve long been a fan of country pianist Floyd Cramer, who played with such luminaries as Chet Atkins. The piano on “Don’t Know Why” sounds so much like Cramer; his style and grace, a musical maturity not found in many keyboard players today. I was astonished to learn that the sultry singer was also the accomplished pianist. But then, “Come Away with Me” is full of surprises; surprises, but no disappointments. It is a delightful collection from start to finish.

Jones studied music in Texas, and while her country roots are audible in much of “Come Away” she’s certainly not going to be pigeon-holed as a country artist. Not exactly a surprise from the daughter of the most famous sitar-player ever, Ravi Shankar, major influence on George Harrison of the Beatles. A vocal chameleon, she runs the gamut from country to jazz, blues, and torch songs (one sounds like a cut from “Rare Django”, songs recorded in French jazz clubs in the late 20s), a slow klezmer tune (if there is such a thing), with plenty of soul along the way. Of the fourteen songs on the album, Jones wrote or co-wrote three, bassist Lee Alexander four, and lead guitarist Jesse Harris five. Sixpence None the Richer's eponymousThe three songs not written by band members were culled from the best of Norah’s roots: one by Hank Williams (the real Hank Williams, not the pseudo-performer currently using his name), one by John D. Loudermilk, and one by Hoagy Carmichael.

Norah’s voice reminds me somewhat of Edie Brickell‘s, and of Leigh Nash of “Sixpence None the Richer“, but with a huskiness more appropriate for the genre she’s chosen to include on this album. Refreshing and relaxing, “Come Away with Me” has style.

  • “Don’t Know Why” — An obvious single, this is a simple song about the confusion that often surrounds what we think is love. Jones’ piano sparkles, her voice seduces, the entire effect is like dancing alone in a darkened room with your eyes closed. Very Patsy Cline, which is a very good thing. Perfect torch song.
  • “Seven Years” — Musically more focused on guitars and Norah’s voice, this includes a dobro solo which lends a feeling of an early Carter Family recording, but with that same honey-smoked voice.
  • “Cold Cold Heart” — This Hank Williams classic has never been in better hands. It’s not easy to take a song so completely identified with one genre and transform it completely to another, but Norah does it beautifully. An extremely sparse arrangement, leaning heavily on rhythym and blues bassline, some brushes on the drums, and bits of piano to accentuate Norah’s vocals. She manages to completely ignore the natural cadence of the tune and either push the lyrics out just a little early, or leave them just a bit late, making for some perfect jazz phrasing. It’s a tribute to her musical sensibilities.
  • “Feelin’ the Same Way” — This one would be at home with Reba McEntire or Bonnie Raitt; it’s an almost-country pop tune which, without noticeable effort at uniqueness still manages to be memorable among so many memorable tunes.
  • “Come Away with Me” — The title song makes you want to do just that; a seductive tune about the simple joys we associate with being in love — walking through fields of grass together, the intimacy of unashamedly kissing where the whole world can see you, the warmth of just being with someone you love, and who loves you. Delicate multi-layered guitar work and Norah’s piano in just the right places merely emphasizes the intimacy of the piece.
  • “Shoot the Moon” — While the music to many of these tunes sounds like they should have sad lyrics, most don’t. “Shoot the Moon” is an exception; an indefinite poem of love leaving, undisturbed by the musical accompaniment.
  • “Turn Me On” — One of my favorites, a gem among gems, Norah seems especially inspired by blues great John Loudermilk’s lyrics. This is the one tune where she nearly lets her voice out of the box; more than once, we get a glimpse of the barely restrained power behind that softness. Reminiscent of Aretha Franklin, a long time ago. I’d love to hear more; not that there’s anything wrong with the way Jones uses her voice, but there’s plenty of room for more of the soulful intensity of “Turn Me On.”
  • “Lonestar” — Simple honest country tune. Every instrument sounds like they’ve gone home to Texas; even Norah’s piano chording is traditional 1-4-5 with the bass runs I remember so well from my father’s piano playing. Mournful lyrics, aptly suited to this homage to her home state.
  • “I’ve Got to See You Again” — Probably actually a rhumba or samba, this has all the earmarks of klezmer, the joyous music of Jewish festivities, but slower, more passionate. Jenny Scheinman’s violin adds just the right touch of mystery to an unusual arrangement. A standout, even among so many outstanding tracks. Fascinating vocal harmonies provided by Norah herself, which makes me wonder how some of these tunes would fare in a live setting, without the ability to overdub her own harmonies. More on that below.
  • “Painter Song” — This would fit right into so much of the jazz from the 20s and 30s. Unusual climbing chord progressions, a meandering melody not quickly grasped, and friendly accordion make this shorter song fun.
  • “One Flight Down” — Like a m

Fair Summer Evenings

anci Griffith is a poet of the highest caliber. It’s an added benefit that she puts her poetry to beautiful music and sings it with an angel’s voice.I first heard that voice in 1989, when my sister suggested I listen to “More Than A Whisper” from Nanci’s 1986 album “Last Of The True Believers.” I immediately thought of James Taylor – the delicate style of guitar picking, the flow of the melody, the interplay between vocals and guitar. Like many of her tunes, “More Than A Whisper” is a cry for a little reason and sense in the usually irrational arena of love.

Nanci Griffith is a poet of the highest caliber. It’s an added benefit that she puts her poetry to beautiful music and sings it with an angel’s voice.

I first heard that voice in 1989, when my sister suggested I listen to “More Than A Whisper” from Nanci’s 1986 album “Nanci Griffith's 'Last of the True Believers'Last Of The True Believers.” I immediately thought of James Taylor – the delicate style of guitar picking, the flow of the melody, the interplay between vocals and guitar. Like many of her tunes, “More Than A Whisper” is a cry for a little reason and sense in the usually irrational arena of love.

And like many of her finest tunes, “More Than A Whisper” was included in her first live album, “Nanci Griffith's 'One Fair Summer Evening'One Fair Summer Evening.” Recorded at the Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant on two summer evenings in 1988, the songs are presented in their purest form; simple acoustic numbers, standing on their beautiful melodies and touching lyrics rather than fancy instrumentation. It’s easy to forget, listening to the richness of each song, that the only instruments played are Nanci’s guitar, long-time compatriot James Hooker’s keyboards, and Denny Bixby’s bass.

While many live albums eliminate the between-song patter, part of the appeal of “One Fair Summer Evening” is Nanci’s commentary; why songs were written, who they’re about, and in one case, what the little ‘ding’ is during the quiet instrumental sections. Her stories of great-aunts and uncles, her love for Ireland, and the loves and lives of her own loved ones, all flow naturally between and around the songs chronicling those same events.

Two new songs were introduced on the album. “Deadwood, South Dakota” is a quietly biting commentary on the plight of native Americans, told through the events in a small-town drug store when news arrives that Crazy Horse, enemy of the people, has been killed. The sarcasm of the chorus is atypical of Griffith’s lyrics, but apropos to the poignant tone of the track:

 And the gold she lay cold in their pockets And the sun she sets down on the trees And they thank the Lord for the land that they live in Where the white man does as he pleases

The second of the new tunes, “I Would Bring You Ireland”, is a ‘thank you’ to the people of Ireland. Nanci explains that the Irish have always made her feel especially welcome, and the song is a glowing portrait of a place she obviously loves.

Other highlights:

  • “Love At The Five And Dime”, a wonderful story of enduring love in everyday life, and featuring the ‘ding’ of the elevator bell in a Woolworths’ store. Nanci opens this one with her fond and funny memories associated with Woolworth stores. She perfectly describes something I remember well: the smell of a Woolworth’s store is the smell of “chewing gum and popcorn rubbed around on the bottom of a leather-soled shoe.”
  • “Trouble In The Fields”, a story inspired by Griffith’s great-uncles and aunts who farmed the land, enjoying good times and enduring bad. The lyrics use the hardships and joys of farming as an analogy to the hardships and joys of relationships. Acknowledging the hard work necessary to make anything grow, the chorus closes
     Come harvest time we'll work it out There's still a lotta love, here in these troubled fields

My next Nanci Griffith album is going to be her 1993 release “Nanci Griffith's 'Other Voices, Other Rooms'Other Voices, Other Rooms“, a tribute to the people whose music influenced her. Not only does she cover her benefactor’s tunes, the list of guest artists read like a “Who’s Who” of modern folk and country: Nanci Griffith's 'Flyer'Chet Atkins, Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, John Hartford, Leo Kottke, Alison Krause, Odetta, John Prine, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers.

Sometime soon I’ll tell you all about Nanci’s fantastic 1994 album “Flyer“, another of my favorites.

Elvis Einstein Rockefeller Jones

while ago my second son Brendan played an MP3 he’d downloaded called “Wake Up Charlie.” It’s a poignant bluegrass tune about a young boy caring for his older brother, and why. I recognized the voices as Berkley Hart, an alt-country duo whose songs “High School Town” and “Something to Fall Back On” get some airplay on our local independent radio station KPRI.Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart are gaining notoriety in the local music scene, and I certainly hope the rest of the country catches on soon. They swing wildly from bluegrass and straight country to tunes which defy pigeon-holing. Their lyrics are intelligent and thought-provoking and sometimes sad, their music carefully crafted and deceptively simple.

A while ago my second son Brendan played an MP3 he’d downloaded called “Wake Up Charlie.” It’s a poignant bluegrass tune about a young boy caring for his older brother, and why. I recognized the voices as Berkley Hart, an alt-country duo whose songs “High School Town” and “Something to Fall Back On” get some airplay on our local independent radio station KPRI.

Jeff Berkley and Calman Hart are gaining notoriety in the local music scene, and I certainly hope the rest of the country catches on soon. They swing wildly from bluegrass and straight country to tunes which defy pigeon-holing. Their lyrics are intelligent and thought-provoking and sometimes sad, their music carefully crafted and deceptively simple.

Songs like “Elvis Einstein” are the reason the genre ‘alt-country’ exists. The opening banjo is closer to Bela Fleck than Earl Scruggs, and the lyrics are a tale of a baby found in a dumpster. Delivered to a nearby church by the old man who found him, he’s left with a note telling the priest that, in order to give him a good start in life, his name is ‘Elvis Einstein Rockefeller Jones.’ In each succeeding verse, the boy gets a new name from someone who thinks he deserves better, but in the end, it’s not his name that makes him who he is.

Jeff and Calman have two albums together, “Wreck ‘n’ Sow” released two years ago, featuring Charlie, Elvis Einstein, and the tragic couple of “Barrel of Rain”, and their new album “Something To Fall Back On” released July 27th of this year. Many of their tunes are available at MP3.com. While you’re there, get copies of “Up the River” and “If I Die In A Nuclear War”, only available on Calman’s solo album “The John Boy Drum” which I can’t find anywhere.

Singles

Trivia question: the drummer on Steve Miller’s “My Dark Hour” is listed in the credits as ‘Paul Ramon’; what’s his real name?Hover here for one hint

Trivia question: the drummer on Steve Miller’s “My Dark Hour” is listed in the credits as ‘Paul Ramon’; what’s his real name?

Hover here for one hint

Another hint

Answer


Some random thoughts regarding the tunes I listened to on my way to work today:

  • Hush” – Deep Purple – Jon Lord once said, “I think my organ playing has something to do with the sound of the band.” In stand-up comedy, we call this ‘humor by understatement.’ While many of the band members were extremely talented it is Lord’s performances on a Hammond B3 organ which typify this band’s sound for me.
  • Quinn the Eskimo” – Manfred Mann – No, not the wimpy studio version (and please, for your own sake, avoid Dylan’s original; a classic example of bad arranging.) Side two (did I say that? well, on vinyl, it was side two!) has three tracks, two of them live, which show what a powerful rock band this was. The closing track is a huge keyboard extravaganza. After the opening verses, the pace becomes frenetic as drums, guitar and keyboards all try to out-intense each other. Chris Slade should have stayed with the band. His drumming is almost machine-like in its precision, but there’s too much feeling to ever mistake it for anything electronic.
  • “I Still Miss Someone” – Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys – Lester Flatt was a great singer. No, his voice isn’t polished and refined, he doesn’t reach up to those impressive high notes; instead, he made simple tunes about human emotions sound genuine. When Lester was happy, you were happy; when he sang a sad song, you cried. While Earl’s banjo was the flashy partner, Lester’s voice is what I miss.
  • Commercial music?
    • “Rock and Roll” – Led Zeppelin – I was mystified by the brouhaha over the band allowing Cadillac to use this song in their commercials. Let me see; huge commercial conglomerate wants to pay aging rock stars an annuity every time one of their commercials runs. Am I missing the moral dilemma? I’ve been muting commercials since the advent of the remote control, but I listen to this one. Loud.
    • “Lust for Life” – Iggy Pop – Sorry; can’t even remember the product or service. Maybe Royal Carribean cruises? Had you told me 25 years ago that this pounding irresponsible tune by a guy considered a freak (even in an era of freaks) would be played on commercial television to augment the selling abilities of the medium, I would have laughed. But then, I still do, every single time I hear this song.
       "I've been hurting since I bought the gimmick About something called love; Yeah, something called love. Well, that's like hypnotizing chickens."
  • “(Outside the Gates of) Cerdes” – Procol Harum – Robin Trower occasionally got ahold of Keith Reid’s lyrics before Gary Brooker got to them. While Brooker tended toward the beautifully orchestrated pieces, Trower is a bluesman. “Cerdes” opens with a bass line I just can’t resist, and includes some fine guitar work by Trower. As usual, Reid’s lyrics hover somewhere between confusing and bizzare.

Paris or Alaska?

Jimmy Buffett’s music was one of the links between my father and I. At least, I’ve always felt that way, until I remember that my father probably only heard one of Jimmy’s tunes his entire life. Funny how your memory adjusts to your beliefs.My father, like the singer of “A Pirate Looks at 40” really was a pirate two hundred years too late. He never quite adapted to a normal 9-5 workaday world. Before my parents married, he’d been in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. He made no secret of his dream to go back to one particular valley, build a cabin, and live out his days in peace.

Jimmy Buffett‘s music was one of the links between my father and I. At least, I’ve always felt that way, until I remember that my father probably only heard one of Jimmy’s tunes his entire life. Funny how your memory adjusts to your beliefs.

My father, like the singer of “A Pirate Looks at 40” really was a pirate two hundred years too late. He never quite adapted to a normal 9-5 workaday world. Before my parents married, he’d been in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska. He made no secret of his dream to go back to one particular valley, build a cabin, and live out his days in peace.

But like the singer of “He Went to Paris”, and in fact, like so many of us, he put his dreams on hold. Just until the kids were older. Just until the kids were grown. Just until mom was ready. Ten years, then twenty, finally, thirty years went by, the dream unfulfilled; and then, it was too late.

Although I identify strongly with the hopeless romantic in some of Jimmy’s tunes (“Come Monday”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”) and with the delirium of a beautiful daughter (“Little Miss Magic”) I’ve never quite achieved pirate status. But like my father, I’ve put off too many dreams for far too long.

So now the question is, where first – Paris or Alaska?

If you’re looking for a good introduction to Jimmy Buffett, the anthology ‘Boats Beaches Bars & Ballads‘ provides a pretty good overview of the man’s work. If you’d like to try a smaller bite first, the album that hits all the right spots with me is ‘A1A.’ “A Pirate Looks at 40”, “Life is Just a Tire Swing” (with that title, how can it miss?), “Tin Cup Chalice”, about actually fulfilling some dreams, and John Sebastian’s moving ode to lost time, “Stories We Could Tell.” More than any other song, it makes me regret the times not spent together.

 "Oh, the stories we could tell
  And before we have to say that last farewell
  I wish that we could sit upon a bed in some hotel
  And listen to the stories we could tell"