What a lot of fun this musical production is!
“…Featuring,” Norah Jones’ latest release, is a wonderful arrangement of the songstress’ tracks as she appears with numerous other artists, who are as varied as Dolly Parton and Outkast. The songs were recorded from 2001 to 2010 and cover everything from small cameos to duets to full-scale collaborations. They mirror Jones’ own career over the decade, in which she has recorded four CDs that have sold more than 40 million copies altogether. Everything from jazz to country to hip-hop to ballads are represented.
Almost every one of the tracks works, but some are standouts. I never would have thought that Nora would blend well with Dolly Parton, but “Creepin’ In” proves me wrong. This collaboration has the two women alternating lyrics and then joining together for the refrain in a most lovely way. Dolly has a luscious voice on her own, but somehow the sweetness of Jones’ pipes adds a texture that’s just irresistible.
Out earlier on Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-award-winning River: The Joni Letters album, “Court & Spark,” still sounds like a new release. Jones gives Joni Mitchell’s 1970s anthem to love and faithlessness a sound that’s a bit tougher than usual for her. Hancock gives it all a jazz base that makes the song a signature one for his own album. On this CD, it’s a show-stopper.
Another song that appeared on another best-of-the-year Grammy-winning album is “Here We Go Again” with Ray Charles from Genius Loves Company. I don’t think the late Charles ever sounded bad with anyone he collaborated with, and this is no exception. He gives plenty of musical space to Norah, who sings playfully with him. They tease and trade off segments, pause for a long organ solo (which make you ache for the lost Charles even more), and then join together for the finale.
I’d never have put Norah Jones and Outkast in the same musical sentence, but the two blend together with ease. Outkast simply puts her out front as lead singer, and she melds with their funk as if she were born to it. The song “Take Off Your Cool” is from is another Grammy winner, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
Some of the songs Jones sings are from her own bands or side projects, such as The Little Willies and El Madmo, so the songs with those groups work naturally well. She also includes songs with perfumers she’s toured with, including M. Ward, Sasha Dobson (who has played with her touring band), Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings.
I was most surprised that she does well with hip-hop, for there’s an area where I’d imagine her an outsider. Yet sure enough, she shines with Q-Tip in “Life is Better” and even with Talib Kweli in “Soon the New Day” (although I couldn’t understand why she was interested in singing the sexist lyrics to this second song).
All in all, this is one wonderful little sampler of a CD. It’s the perfect party mix with something for everyone. Or a great selection for driving: a little jazz, a little country, ballads, hip-hop, everything you might want.
The closing cut is the best. The Roy Orbison song “Blue Bayou” gets a beautiful live acoustic guitar treatment with M. Ward. It’s a lovely, plaintive, untouched-by-time appeal for “some sweet day…on blue bayou.”