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Potentially Classic Austin City Limits

Norah Jones and Chris Isaak this weekend on PBS:

    AUSTIN CITY LIMITS presents two artists who mix aspects of several genres of American roots music to form their own original sound. Chris Isaak’s exciting rock ‘n’ roll has been winning fans for decades and sultry songstress Norah Jones’ jazzy pop has given this newcomer national attention. The Chris Isaak followed by Norah Jones episode of AUSTIN CITY LIMITS airs November 2, 2002 on PBS (check local listings for time and date in your area).

    “For the past 28 years we’ve always been on the lookout for artists who are eclectic, eccentric and who defy labels and stereotypes,” said producer Terry Lickona. “Just like the series itself, both Chris Isaak and Norah Jones have an original sound that represents many different styles of American music.”

    Chris Isaak and his band Silvertone blend rock, blues and country into a frenzy of sound that had the 450 screaming fans at the show’s taping on their feet from the first song till the last. Fans across the country will be able experience the band’s energetic performance on “American Boy,” “Speak of the Devil,” “Let Me Down Easy,” “Wicked Game,” “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” and “Life Will Go On” during Isaak’s half-hour set on AUSTIN CITY LIMITS.

    Isaak’s sound can be traced to an eclectic group of influences that includes the Beatles and Elvis, but a number of lesser-known musicians as well. “When people ask me about who I’m influenced by, it’s always kind of difficult for me because I listen to a lot of music and a lot of weird music,” Isaak said. “It runs a long way from Mack Wiseman to Connie Francis to Floyd Tillman to Dick Dale and bits and pieces of everything.”

    Isaak, who has acted in several movies including “That Thing You Do” and “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,” and Silvertone currently star as a band in the Showtime comedy series “The Chris Isaak Show.” In real life these musicians have been playing together for almost two decades.

    “I have the best job there is,” said Isaak. “Half the time I’m making TV shows or movies. The other half the time I’m recording, I’m playing music. And all the time I’m doing it with my friends. I’ve had the same guys for 17 years now. The thing that keeps me going, I think, is I’ve got good guys around me, good people around me.”

    Up-and-comer Norah Jones has everyone talking. Her debut album, Come Away with Me, takes her jazz background and fuses it with country, blues and pop to form a style that is beyond labeling.

    “I don’t really know how to describe my music,” said Jones. “It’s not really a jazz record. We’re getting further and further away from jazz than when we started because I used to sing all jazz standards and be really into that. We just keep getting into other things. I’ve gotten really into country music this year. … I think my record is just a collection of songs and … hopefully people like it.”

    Jones’ CD has received almost unanimous critical praise and her performance on AUSTIN CITY LIMITS filled the legendary television studio with a mellow groove that sent fans home smiling. Jones’ performance includes “Nightingale,” “Come Away with Me,” “Feelin’ the Same Way,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “I’ve Got to See You Again,” “Lone Star” and “Bessie
    Smith.”

    Jones, who is in her early twenties, said she did not expect her first album to be as popular – both critically and commercially – as it is.

    “Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I did to deserve all this,” Jones said. “I’ve been really lucky. I just hope I can handle it. … There’s a lot of young people out there who would like the same opportunity. … [I fell like] I reached a goal that I thought was like a twenty year goal.”

Here is my review of Jones’ Come Away With Me:

    You would never guess Norah Jones’ age from her voice: a melodious alto blend of Billie Holiday compression (she fills the notes like ideal air pressure in a tire), Diana Krall easy self-possession, and a hint of smoky Dusty-in-Memphis grit.

    I first heard the voice last year on the brilliant 8-string guitarist Charlie Hunter’s Songs From the Analog Playground, on which she appeared twice: a dazzling, bluesy rendition of Nick Drake’s “Day Is Done”; and most remarkably, a jazzy bossa nova version of Roxy Music’s ode to ennui, “More Than This,” on which she brought to mind an idealized Phoebe Snow.

    Then her CD, Come Away With Me, came out and I knew they had put the wrong person on the cover: big trouble in the art department. For staring out from the jewel case is a vaguely exotic, raven-haired, sensuous-lipped, college girl. There is no way that this voice of sly experience came out of that face. But it did, and does.

    Though released by the historic, jazz-oriented Blue Note label, Come Away, produced by the legendary Arif Mardin is an unlikely but cohesive admixture of easy jazz, sophisto-pop, smooth soul, and countryish L.A. singer-songwriter stylings. No ragas, though (more on that later), and not one moment of diva-like histrionics, not a whiff of Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera begging you to hear ME ME ME above and beyond the SONG SONG SONG, which for them is just a vehicle for the real star of the show.

    Norah is in control of her jazzy soul and devotes all of her prodigious talent to respecting the song: inhabiting it like a house, which she strolls about as a gracious host, pointing out its charming features. This artistic generosity and respect for the house displays maturity that most performers never achieve, let alone at 22. Who is this person? Where did she come from?

    Jones was born in Brooklyn and grew up singing and playing piano in Dallas with her Oklahoma-born mother, who played Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Joni Mitchell records for her. She attended the same high school for the arts in Dallas as Erykah Badu, where she dove into jazz, absorbing the piano subtleties of Bill Evans and the classic musicianly vocals of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone. She went to the University of North Texas as a piano major for two years before dropping out to seek her musical fortune in New York.

    Oh, by the way, her father is Ravi Shankar, with whom she appears to have a quite distant relationship. His name isn’t mentioned anywhere in her official bio, and is only mentioned in two articles I could find: a brief but deeply appreciative bio/interview in the NY Times Magazine, and an album review in the Washington Post. Once you know it you can see the resemblance – “vaguely exotic” look explained – but Shankar would appear to have about zero musical influence upon her: Jones’s beguiling potpourri features nary a vedantic ping, not a raga in sight.

    Come Away With Me just flows out of the speakers, an early-summer float down a fragrant winding stream with outstanding Nashville-jazz originals from her guitarist Jesse Harris (“Don’’t Know Why,” “Shoot the Moon,” “I’ve Got to See You Again”), L.A.-meets-Western Swing originals from her bassist Lee Alexander (“Seven Years,” “Feelin’ the Same Way,” “Lone Star”), her own intensely intimate, beautiful title track; and covers of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” and a striking acoustic bass-driven version of Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart.” She is something.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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