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Norah Jones proves you can
Norah Jones - Not Too Late
Review by John HalversonSome musicians can stretch. Some can't. Not long ago, I reviewed John Mayer's latest CD, Continuum. He came through on his pledge that this would be a different kind of John Mayer. More depth, more beat, more variety. Norah Jones made the same claims, but saying it isn't the same as doing it.
In the much ballyhooed Not Too Late Norah may have convinced some that she's grown but for me it was just a lot of the same old, same old. It's a big comedown from her debut album, Come Away With Me which sparkled with originally, sounding less derivative than a fresh take on smooth jazz. I was hoping we had a new voice. Someone, like Sade and Astrud Gilberto, who somehow turned their limited ranges into their own signature styles. Feels like Home, Norah's second hit album, was a solid encore to Come Away. True, it felt more like a continuation than a break, but that was OK, a plus even, because we were ready for more of the same. But with Not Too Late and Norah's promises of a new sound, I was hoping for more twists, different tones, funkier rhythms. Yet the similarities were so striking that when I first put Not Too Late into my CD player, I thought I had put in one of her earlier recordings.
Nora doesn't seem to understand that purely starting off with a piano instead of a guitar doesn't distinguish one song format from another. In Not Too Late her once distinctive sound now seems numbingly the same. It's a saving grace for me is that it's simply too bland to actually hate. Yes, Norah does shows she still has a knack for intriguing lyrics as in "Until The End":
You've got a famous last name
But you're not to blame
Baby I see you for who you are
Yet even the well-wrought words tend to get lost in the snooze of her voice and music.
So why hasn't she managed to join Sade and Gilberto as a true jazz stylist? Maybe, it's because Jones writes her own stuff. Gilberto entrusted the songwriting to others, allowing for a separation between composer and performer that may have served as a hedge against redundancy. And both Gilberto and Sade also understood less is more, by producing remarkably few albums considering their lofty musical status. Maybe absence just made the heart grow fonder. (They also mixed live and studio albums, allowing them to put fresh twists on old songs.) Or, maybe-and I fear this is true-they just had the pipes and the perspective to become true jazz musicians instead of just elevator music clones.
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