“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. The 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