Norah Jones outdoes herself with modesty
by Seth Rogovoy
(SCHENECTADY, N.Y., July 1, 2003) – Fourteen million of her debut albums sold. A virtual sweep of the Grammy Awards. And just a little over a year ago, no one in America had even heard of Norah Jones.
It’s almost enough to make you pity her. How could this modest singer of simple, jazzy, folk-pop tunes – most of which she didn’t write – possibly live up to the whirlwind of fame and fortune that has struck her almost like lightning?
One strategy would be to present herself as modestly as possible, befitting the calm feel of the album, “Come Away with Me,” and most of its songs. Avoid any kind of hype or polished stagecraft – any overt attempts to cross over into the pop stardom arena that must be tempting Miss Jones like the devil himself.
The good news is that is exactly what Jones did at Proctor’s Theatre on Monday night, where she and her band did more than just acquit themselves – they outdid themselves.
They certainly outdid the gentle, lazy folk-jazz of “Come Away with Me,” opening up the arrangements of songs from that album, plus a handful of new songs and well-chosen cover tunes, to embrace a wider, American roots music sensibility.
The Norah Jones of “Come Away with Me” may be a wispy bohemian sophisticate with jazz leanings, but in concert she kept reminding the sold-out crowd that, at least musically, she is a soulful child of her native Texas.
Jones kicked off her generous set with a version of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” which proved to be the jazziest, most impressionistic number of the night. You were immediately struck by how much more powerful her voice can be than her previously recorded performances lead you to believe. She was alternately twangy and bluesy, with more depth and range, and she swung every line while accompanying herself on piano with her trademark, uniquely-voiced, gospel block chords.
She tackled the very Ray Charles-like gospel soul of Nina Simone’s “Turn Me On,” which featured Kevin Breit on steel guitar. Electric guitarist Adam Levy took “Nightingale” into Jerry Garcia territory, and “One Flight Down” was one of several numbers that evoked the classic soul-folk fusion of Carole King’s “Tapestry.”
If Jones and the band never quite recaptured the creative peak of “Cold, Cold Heart” – they never really attempted any further exploration into jazz, other than Jones’s affecting solo version of Duke Ellington’s “Melancholia” – they put on a fine show anyway by keeping things under control while taking small licenses with familiar and unfamiliar tunes.
Drummer Andrew Borger was the weak link in the group, and he swung a little too energetically on bassist Lee Alexander’s “Feelin’ the Same Way.” The band was more heartfelt on a version of the Everly Brothers’ “Sleepless Nights,” and Jones gave voice to her inner diva on a circular new funk groove, “Morning,” by Levy. And everyone, including terrific opening duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, pulled all stops for a curtain-closing version of AC/DC’s rock anthem “Ride On.”
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 2, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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