Written by Fantasma el Rey
Norah Jones is back with her third CD titled Not Too Late, and it’s never too late for anything from this sexy, smooth-voiced, dark-eyed cutie. My ears first perked to this kitten via her work with The Little Willies, a swinging country band from N.Y.C. From her first vocal appearance on that album, I was gone, hooked, a fan for life. I then devoured her first two CDs and longed for this one. It’s here and packs the punch that I hoped it would.
Miss Jones delivers as much as she has in the past; her writing and skills on the 88s remain magnificent. Her band remains just as strong, filled out by the core of Lee Alexander, returning to produce and play both up-right and electric bass, Andrew Borger on drums, and the guitars of Jesse Harris, acoustic, and Adam Levy, electric. A handful of others appear on this album, including Richard Julian, who pops in to provide some vocal support. Many of these players haven’t been heard from since Norah’s first CD, Come Away With Me, while others where prominent features on her second, Feels Like Home.
Not Too Late opens with the somber “Wish I Could,” which leads off with just a guitar followed by Norah’s sublime vocals. This one is heavy for an opener, with lyrics about the unfairness of love in war. What kicks are lines like “I don’t tell her that I once loved you too” and “We met in a place I used to go/ Now I only walk by slow/ Can’t bear to go in without you, you know/ Wish I could.” Words that hit hard, as do the rest of the lyrics on this CD written by Norah or the team of Jones/Alexander.
“Sinkin’ Soon” is a more playful little ditty with a 1930s swing/jazz jump. The trombone and mandolin punctuate the track while Norah tickles the ivories and the drums roll. Borger even hits the pots and pans, lending a back porch feel to the jam. Norah shows her vocal swagger here, as she sways and rises with the flow of the band, again showing how keeping a tight group of musicians together is beneficial.
“The Sun Doesn’t Like You” and “Until The End” are a couple of mellow country numbers that highlight Levy’s picking. “The Sun” is driven by it along with Norah’s piano and Borger’s wonderful shuffling brushes. On “Until The End,” the Hammond B-3 organ quietly sighs in the background while Levy’s slow picking holds up the bridge.
“Not My Friend” has an eerie backwards electric guitar, and Norah’s tapping on the piano keys give it an oddly pretty, dripping sound, added to by the marimba doing the same. The acoustic guitar gives off a dreamlike sense of darkness that the vocals second; throughout the track, there is a tapping noise that adds to the haunting air of the entire tune. The lyrics are just as darkly dreamlike: “Your voice is ringing/ Just like the boys who laughed at me in school” and “You found a place/ No one should ever go” followed by “I’ll be o.k./ ‘Cuz when I back away/ I’m gonna keep the handle of your gun in sight.” This one has Fantasma in a spin. I can’t stop clicking on the back track button. I’m in a zombie trance over this one, I swear. Now that I’ve broken out of my trance thirty minutes later (no joke), on with the review…
Next is the single “Thinking About You,” which kicks us back up with the lively trumpet and tenor sax. The Hammond B-3 returns, a compliment to the Wurlitzer that Norah is pushing on. The solid, time-keeping drums and steady, soulful bass thump round out the rhythm, setting your head to boppin’ along. The lyrics aren’t happy pap on this either. It’s not that starry-eyed “thinking about you;” it’s more along the lines of “You hold my hand, but do you really need me/ I guess its time for me to let you go.” Shivers, daddy-o.
“Broken” finds the band as a three piece with a twist. Alexander plucks the “bowed basses,” Julia Kent gently saws at the cellos, and all the while our girl Norah strums the electric guitar. Now as far I know that’s a first right there but it gives the song a certain pop adding to the wisdom of these musicians and songwriters.
“My Dear Country” has the sting of political criticism and deals with the horrors of the day after the election. The trombone and tenor sax return, joined by the tuba for a quick romp for you see this one begins with just piano and vocals. After over two minutes, the rest of the band joins in for roughly twenty good seconds before quietly becoming the backdrop of the tune. “My Dear Country” is all Norah, taking you on a ride with her talents.
The album contains more country nods that find our kitten showing off that voice of hers on strong songs that spotlight the band as well. “Wake Me Up” has Norah on acoustic guitar this time, as well as the pump organ. Borger brings back the brushes and Alexander balances his up-right bass plucking with the lap steel that weeps softly throughout the song. “Rosie’s Lullaby” contains two electric guitars and turns the super-trooper (spotlight) on Robbie McIntosh on the solo. The twin guitars blend well and cry out gently to one another as Norah urges Rosie to close her eyes and dream.
“Little Room” and “Not Too Late” have the band broken down to three again. The first is a peppy number that has Norah in an upbeat mood while once more strumming on the acoustic guitar as Alexander gently slaps the bass and Daru Oda whistles up a storm. The title track is the closing tune, and we are left with the core three of Jones, Alexander, and Borger. A slow song about meeting with an old love, perhaps only in the mind and how we long to know what they have been up to. Oh, how much we can miss someone, knowing full well it can never be the same between us. Yet love is there but must be put aside for the simple reason that the relationship is harmful to both parties and separate paths have been chosen and must be followed. Love, as life is never easy.
This darkly poetic album has me caught in its net. From start to finish Norah Jones’ vocal prowess is outstanding and has her shining once more. Her voice and the master musicians behind her are as good as ever and again leave us longing for more. This forty-five minute CD, which I turned into three hours of listening pleasure, is well worth any wait that this dark-eyed kitten put us through. Until her next release I only hope that we can see another Little Willies platter put out, because if you can’t tell, Fantasma digs those kats the most. No matter what the future holds I’ll be spinning this one over and over again.