Norah Jones - Day Breaks (album review) (2016)

Norah Jones
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There are music fans who pine for a Come Away With Me, version 2.0 from Norah Jones, and it’s easy to see why. That 2002 record became a pop music sensation in part because of Jones’ youthful yet sensually dusky vocals that drove a record that contained elements that reached the public’s pop sensibilities while remaining quintessentially jazz. Of course, there was the pop music lullaby that was the sweet “Don’t Know Why,” that never left the radio, and her Texas swing version of Hank Williams' “Cold Cold Heart” that validated the wisdom of anyone who moved beyond the radio hit. However, Jones’ piano playing on the record’s final track – an amazingly intimate take on “The Nearness of You” – that brought his revelatory album full circle.

There are music fans who pine for a Come Away With Me, version 2.0 from Norah Jones, and it’s easy to see why. That 2002 record became a pop music sensation in part because of Jones’ youthful yet sensually dusky vocals that drove a record that contained elements that reached the public’s pop sensibilities while remaining quintessentially jazz. Of course, there was the pop music lullaby that was the sweet “Don’t Know Why,” that never left the radio, and her Texas swing version of Hank Williams' “Cold Cold Heart” that validated the wisdom of anyone who moved beyond the radio hit. However, Jones’ piano playing on the record’s final track – an amazingly intimate take on “The Nearness of You” – that brought his revelatory album full circle.

Jones used that album as a springboard to explore a myriad of musical directions that took her away from the pop pixie dust of Come Away With Me while remaining true to her diverse Texas musical roots that include blues, country, alt-rock, Texas swing and collaborations with everyone from Willie Nelson and Billie Je Armstrong and OutKast.

Day Breaks, Jones' newest album, represents a return to the acoustic jazz roots. Day Breaks is similar to her debut in many respects. Both feature covers of jazz and rock era standards along with originals co-written by Jones. However, there is are some differences such as the fact that the latter record is a thematically a darker – or perhaps a more mature and world-wearied record.

Day Breaks is filled with stories of characters who are looking for or finding something either on the open road or within themselves. The title track opens with a pensive guitar joined by a piano and then shuffle drum beat before Jones' vocal begins a tale of a person who has awakened mentally to something. The opening line “day breaks in your head,” deceptively leads the listener to believe that rose to a new day until the lyrics reveal that the character awakened to the realization that time and opportunity is slipping through their fingers, as the next line reveals: “And you find you’re finally alone/I’ll find a way to make it through/But it keeps rainin’ in your heart

Jones uses bluesy swing and an organ in “Tragedy,” a track that tells the story of the aftermath of a man who forsook his family for the bottle, but who can only respond to the pathetic state by drinking even more. Jones leads out with a country tinged piano on her cover of “Don’t Be Denied,” another track that tells the tale of a someone on the move both away and toward something and not quite achieving it, but never giving up the quest. The seductively percussive “Sleeping Wild” finds Jones cooing through a tale of drunk courage. “It’s getting late/I’ll be on my way/Seems that you have nothing left to say/But now that you have had a few/Words that were lost have found their way.”

One other element that connects this work with every Jones project is the high quality of musicianship on a record features players such as Wayne Shorter, Brian Blade and John Patitucci, just to name a few. Day Breaks marks a return to Jones’s jazz roots, but she is not in the same place, as an artist and a person, and growth is reflected on this project and is a payoff in itself. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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