Smack in the middle of the initial Norah Jones explosion (Remember? When it seemed like the radio was tryin' to brainwash you by playing "Don't Know Why" every 20 minutes or so...and you kept thinkin' "Gee, aren't there any other songs on that CD?) it was pretty easy to pick up on signs of the backlash.
It was bound to happen. Somebody steps into the official RisingStar position and immediately the wet blanket brigade pipes up with "weak voice", "too slow", "all the same", "not so hot on the piano", etc. All of this followed by the lovely nicknames of "Snorah" and "Borah". Nice.
Well, I'm here to tell you that Feels Like Home will not convert those detractors. Because this record is more of the same (it is...and it isn't)? No, because Feels Like Home, like 2002's Come Away With Me, is full of musical subtlety and passion: things that are lost on those folks.
In fact, there is 'more' on Feels Like Home. More melodic twists and turns, more blues, more beauty, passion and, as hinted at by the Come Away shows...just a little more country.
Norah's band (The Handsome Band) is in fine form here. They also make some nice songwriting contributions including "Sunrise", "Those Sweet Words" and "In The Morning". Special guests show up here and there too with Garth Hudson and Levon Helm on "What Am I To You?", Brian Blade ("The Prettiest Thing") and my favorite: Dolly Parton on bassist Lee Alexander's swingin' "Creepin' In".
There are no Jesse Harris tunes this time around, though Harris does appear on guitar on a few tracks. This does not mean that Feels Like Home lacks for moments of inspiration. The cover of Townes Van Zandt's' "Be Here To Love Me" is fantastic, with Garth Hudson's accordion for added zing. Another cover, of Tom Waits' "The Long Way Home", is given a stripped-down country treatment (and now I've got this crazy idea of Waits croaking "Come Away With Me"). The closing "Don't Miss You At All" is actually Duke Ellington's "Melancholia" wrapped around Norah's lyrics. Kinda cool.
For me the high point of the record comes with track #9: the emotional bomb that is "Humble Me". Written by guitarist Kevin Breit, "Humble Me" is a song written from the viewpoint of a person who's more than down and out. I don't want to give away too much but let's just say that the tune delivers serious emotional power, enhanced by the sparse arrangement (just guitar, bass and pump organ) and that voice. If this one doesn't melt you, just a little bit, well...there might not be any hope for ya.
To be sure, the short attention span crowd won't find much to like on Feels Like Home, but that's their loss. With the last few years of a music industry looking very much like it's favorite activity has become forcing its soul to lapdance for the accounting staff, maybe the popularity of Norah Jones is a sign of a turning tide.
(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)