Norah Jones — Day Breaks
Norah Jones was just 23 when her debut Come Away with Me was released. The album sold millions, swept the 2003 Grammys, and made Jones a star. Jones followed up with the similar sounding Feels Like Home, but by that stage a small backlash had developed, as is often the case with such monumental commercial success.
Most of the criticism of Jones was that she was a little boring - playing to tasteful, mature audiences who wanted to hear something jazzy, although not necessarily jazz. While much of this criticism was harsh, Jones was savvy enough to recognise that being young, but peddling oldies music, was not a sustainable way to continue commercially or artistically.
So Jones went wandering, picking up the guitar and moving to indie-style singer/songwriting on Not to Late and The Fall, and then bringing on board Danger Mouse as producer for the atmospheric break-up record Little Broken Hearts.
On the side Jones also delivered two fun albums of country covers with The Little Willies, created a lovely and unexpected Everly Brothers tribute with Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, and joined in on a ramshackle and fun country rock jaunt via another side project - Puss n’ Boots. Jones also collaborated widely with seemingly everyone, from Willie Nelson through to Outkast.
That is a lot of ground to cover in a decade, and so it’s only a surprise that her return to the piano, and to jazz-influenced pop, via her new record Day Breaks is a different beast to Come Away With Me.
Jones has evolved as a musician, and is comfortable returning to the form of her early work even though the details are different. A song such a “Tragedy” recalls the balladry of her beginnings, but more often than not Jones allows instrumental stretches to play out on the songs, and fills them with subtle but surprising detours.
Most of all jazz is what underscores everything here. That influence was apparent on her debut, but here it is the bed rock for everything that follows. Jones and her band sound both skillful and elastic, so when Jones covers Neil Young on “Don’t be Denied” it sounds like it’s always been her song, and fits perfectly alongside her original compositions.
There’s a confidence to Day Breaks that elevates it over other jazz-pop, and also over Jones’s other records. By returning to her origins but expanding her palette she comes up with her most satisfying album yet.