It's hard not to love what Norah Jones is doing with her career. Clad in a strapless polka-dress with a billowing skirt, she slapped on an electric guitar and got down to business for her Saturday (March 20) concert in Chicago. She's still the sweet-looking ingenue who once crooned "Come Away with Me" and won the hearts of millions, but she's been determined to keep moving her musical goals away from that easy ballad. In her expertly mixed concert in support of her The Fall CD release, she combined rock, jazz, bluesy rock, some fairly primitive rhythms that highlighted pensive lyrics (all masterfully kept in check by drummer Joey Waronker) all the way to the Dixieland funeral march of "Sinkin' Soon" (from her previous album, Not Too Late.)
Most of the early set was dedicated to the new, darker rock sound of The Fall, with Jones racing from guitar to electric keyboards throughout. It was syncopated by flashing staccato lights, which drove such songs as "I Wouldn't Need You" "Even Though," and "Tell Yer Mama," all songs of heartbreak that can easily wither into depression. However, Jones was having none of that. When the mood became to self-reflective, she shattered the ennui with "Broken," from Not Too Late, a bluesy number about a homeless person who possesses great grace. Then she moved to some of the songs from earlier albums.
At one point, she leaned on the piano, and said. "This is getting too depressing, isn't it? And I wore my party dress for you guys." So she proceeded to break out into "Sunrise, Sunrise," from the Feels Like Home album. Here's when the change in her voice became noticeable. She takes few chances on this now-standard song. The sexy growl isn't there. She doesn't linger over certain notes as if they are meant to deliver tantalizing secrets. She's learned so much in a few short years, but she doesn't put it back into the older songs — probably because her public wouldn't stand for it.
Not to worry, she went right back to a tough, jazzy stance with "Back to Manhattan." Then, in honor of being in Chicago, she performed a song by native band Wilco. Then it was off to the piano for the comic number "Man of the Hour," about how man's best friend might just be better than the man himself. A hoot from a Texan brought "Lonestar." (She commented on Chicago's freakish first-day-of-spring snowstorm by saying "We're from Texas." Note to Norah: we had five days of lovely spring-time weather before the concert.)
She took the time, as any gracious artist will, to introduce her newly constituted band: Sasha Dobson on vocals, guitar, and accent drums; Waronker and James Gadson on main drums, James Poyser on keyboards, Marc Ribot on guitar; and the incredible Smokey Hormel on lead guitar. Special credit must go out to Hormel, who has the look of a seasoned session man and plays without any flash or attention-getting drama. So, many in the audience weren't paying attention to how precise and flowing his guitar leads were. I'd put him up there with many of today's guitar legends.
A cute mariachi number and some more cuts from "The Fall" made up a surprise encore. Chicago can't have Norah Jones back too soon.
Her tour continues on:
March 25 in Boston; March 26 in Mashantucket, CT; March 27 in New York, NY; March 30 in Baltimore; April 1 in Charlottesville, VA; April 2 in Washington, D.C.; April 3 in Philadelphia, PA;, April 18 in Seattle; April 19 in Portland, OR; April 21 in San Francisco; April 23 in Los Angeles; April 24 in San Diego; April 25 in Phoenix; April 28 in Albuquerque; April 29 in El Paso, TX; May 1 in Austin; May 4 in Dallas; May 5 in Houston; May 6 in Mobile, AL; May 8 in Memphis; May 9 in Birmingham, AL; May 11 in Asheville, NC; May 12 in Charlotte, NC; May 14 in Nashville, and May 15 in Atlanta.