Norah Jones Not Too Late Review
by Patrick Muldowney
To this point, the press surrounding Not Too Late has centered on the fact that Norah Jones is allowing her creativity to shine on her latest work. Considering that this should be a given, there is no reason to act like artists creating art is a novel idea, unless you consult American Idol for the next big thing. Trivialities aside, Not Too Late is indicative of a rich voice complimented by tastefully textured music.
From the opening track, Norah Jones makes it clear that piano will take a backseat on this disc. The simple combination of vocals, acoustic guitars, and cellos, on "Wish I Could" effectively sets a somber tone fitting for our current state of affairs, yet universal enough to be timeless. With a soothing, finger picked guitar, much like one would expect for a bedtime lullaby, Jones tells of two women who love the same man, but war separates them. Although piano appears on many other tracks, it never shares the same space as Jones's voice, as it has done in the past, so "Wish I Could" is a mood setter that, while not musically spirited, definitely shows her ability to carry a tune with much more experienced songwriters like Bonnie Raitt.
"Sinkin' Soon" is the most impressive accomplishment of Not Too Late, and hopefully an indication of things to come. The opening bars would convince any intelligent listener that Tom Waits was about to step in, but when Norah Jones appears instead, it is far from disappointing. The ragtime jazz of the mandolin and bass, along with the slow speaking trombone, create an image of The Cotton Club, illegal booze, and flappers, while the vocals are anachronistically authentic. It is slightly fitting when a dinosaur like Waits pulls off such a musical coup, and something listeners have come to expect, but it is downright impressive how Jones shows the influence of Billie Holiday on "Sinkin' Soon". Like "Wish I Could", this song is a slightly veiled criticism of America 2007, featuring a boat with a"
captain who's too proud to say/That he dropped the oar", so watch out if Oprah's people are intelligent enough to read between the lines, though I doubt it since John Mayer's sophomoric lyrics were hailed as uberpolitical. Regardless, "Sinkin' Soon" is as transcendent as the sound it seeks, and is contextually universal enough to be relevant well beyond our current administration, which is probably the reason M. Ward, graces the song with a vocal track, though it would be much sassier if Ward was replaced with some "Chocolate Jesus".
Not Too Late is a worthwhile adventure from beginning to end. "Until the End" and "Broken" are contemporary gems, concentrating on relationships with which listeners can insert their world and their characters. An adult with a glass of middle shelf wine cooking dinner for one fits this scene. On "Not My Friend" the inclusion of distorted backward guitar is uniquely edgy for Norah Jones, but fitting, considering the gun in her lyrics. "Wake Me Up" and "Rosie's Lullaby" carry a tinge of country, like apt jukebox choices on an early weekday afternoon at Sonny's Last Stop, but are standouts, especially with the sweet sound of the lap steel on "Wake Me Up" and the Wurlitzer on "Rosie's Lullaby".
Norah Jones and Lee Alexander prove that they can write a strong album together on Not Too Late. If their relationship is as strong as this release, they will continue to awe people with a wide range of music, of which Norah Jones is yet to find a poor match vocally. Although this is far from weak lyrically, lyrics are the one place Norah Jones, and this writing tandem, could grow the most. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between what Jones wants to say, and what Jones thinks we want to hear her say. Once she completely gets beyond this quandary, Not Too Late will become the precursor to her masterpieces.
Tracks added to iPod: Sinkin' Soon, Until The End, Broken
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