Written by Fantasma el Rey
Norah Jones is back on the scene with her latest release, …Featuring, a compilation of duets, cameos and collaborations that draws from material going back to 2001. No filler here, just work she’s very proud of that deserves to be heard. Now maybe it’s just me but everything this women works on is gold. Her vocals can be soothing and calm or excited and emotional, yet overall outstanding and beautiful. Bottom line, her voice is unique, and she fits well with the people she chooses to work with.
The collaborations on this new set cover a wide range of artists from all over the musical spectrum and there is never a dull moment. From the rolling opening piano and plaintive vocals on “Love Me” performed with her country side project The Little Willes, you know this is going to be a romp to remember. The pace slows and continues to show the path this record is taking as the lovely Miss Jones next teams up with Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. Poor Norah thought this pairing would be her chance to rock but Grohl came in with the bossa nova ballad “Virginia Moon” that had “Norah Jones” written all over it. He does a good job at displaying his softer side. They carry this dreamy tune and sound awesome together.
Sean Bones and Norah got to work on a movie together then teamed up to do a song for the soundtrack and the reggae-tinged “Turn Them” was the outcome. It is a popping little ditty that kicks off like a slow, sad song but turns to the island rhythms and sets sail on the pair’s breezy vocal talents. Another breezy combo is Norah’s most recent work, “Little Lou, Prophet Jack, Ugly John,” with Belle & Sebastian. This vocal effort is high on her scale and had her fearing she would sound like Minnie Mouse. No chance there as one more dreamy tune hits the ears and draws us into the lyrics of “a lifetime of dreaming that extends to the heart.”
Norah’s creative spark also sets fire to tunes turned out by her and some of hip hop’s brightest and most talented flames, which includes OutKast, Q-Tip, and Talib Kweli. The OutKast tune “Take Off Your Cool” is a simple acoustic guitar-led number that finds Norah and Andre 3000 repeating simple lyrics but simple things some times work best and are worth repeating.
One of the catchiest tracks on here is “Life Is Better” with Q-Tip. Norah holds her own with all the divas and throwaway pop stars of the day that cut similar records. Norah’s calm vocal sway highlights and complements Q-Tip’s lyrical list of the genres’ best over the years. This one is sure to get your head bobbing as the beat thumps along to Q-Tip’s rhyme and Norah’s chorus. Life is better since I’ve heard this joint.
Continuing to make rhyme pay Norah brings her sublime vocals to hook up with Talib Kweli and his flawless flow to float “Soon The New Day” to your ears. And in your head is where it gets caught and lingers until the “new day breaks the dawn,” which isn’t bad as this slow turn brings to mind some old-school funk and, to some extent, the slow keyboard work of The Doors. That’s right listen close and you’ll hear it. Think the chiming, creepy drip-like sounds at the end of “Riders On The Storm” and of An American Prayer’s “Feast Of Friends.”
…Featuring also highlights Norah’s work with legends and heavy-hitters like Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Dolly Parton, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Brother Ray and sister Norah are a perfect match on “Here We Go Again,” which finds Ray at his usual best working out a country/soul number. Norah and Willie on the other hand turn in a rather creepy version of the winter classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I’m sure on any other standard they would match up way better, but here it’s beyond naughty and could easily cross over to freaky. But oddly fun none the less.
Then there’s the rollicking country fun of Norah and Dolly on “Creepin’ In,” sounding like it’s straight from a Little Willies session; you can tell longtime partner Lee Alexander is slappin’ and pluckin’ the bass strings. While the Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Robert Randolph on pedal steel guitar bring her “Ruler Of My Heart” and add a horn-filled, classic soul sounding number to the mix.
“Court & Spark” with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter is pure jazz, from its midway breakdown to its seven-minute run time. Heavy piano, jutting sax, plucky bass, brush drums, and Norah’s timing and smooth vocal drop-down fill this out wonderfully; Norah feels at home with jazz and holds her own with these icons of the genre.
Some of Norah’s longtime pals also stop by to drop a tune or two. Sasha Dobson, who Norah has been in a couple of trios with, helps her tackle “Bull Rider,” a Rodney Crowell-penned tune recorded by Johnny Cash that finds Norah on the guitar. Daru Oda formed El Madmo with Norah as sort of a joke but they have a heavy, dark vibe that could have come from The Cure’s songbook. Ryan Adams lends her a writing hand with “Dear John,” a slow weeper that snapped her out of her own writing slump.
Rounding out …Featuring are some good cover tunes that Norah and friends make all their own. Along with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Norah goes Grand Ole Opry style with just guitars and vocal harmonies on Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta” and keeps that idea going working as she and M. Ward head over to “Blue Bayou” for a quiet duet. And from one of her first recording sessions comes a sweet version of Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” a song that Norah had never heard before, which is awesome because she then made the thing all hers.
…Featuring is a collection of eighteen tracks highlighted by one of the most talented vocalist to come along in some time. And this CD backs that fact as artists from far and wide in the music world seek her out or gladly lend a hand in hopes of collaborating on something special with her. I’m sure they know that she turns tunes to gold. These songs may not sell millions of copies but they stand far above attempts by others who try to accomplish the same thing. Do yourself a favor and get this one as a gift for yourself and anyone else who loves good music.