Norah Jones Box Set From Analogue Productions: Too Much of a Good Thing?
There, along with a group of revolving, supportive musicians, she honed her performing and songwriting craft until she was ready to record. The daughter of Sue Jones and Ravi Shankar (born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar), surely she was well-counseled by her father in all of this and if not, someone else gave her the best possible advice (co-incidentally, my accountant used to burp her when she was a baby- he managed Ravi for a time and was a co-producer of "Concert For Bangladesh").
When it came time to produce the first album, she or her management brought in the great Arif Mardin who worked over two tracks already produced by Jones and Jay Newland who also engineered the album, while three were produced by Craig Street who has a well-deserved reputation for sensitively producing female artists. Get to know Craig and you'll understand why that works well (the three Street tracks were engineered by Husky Huskolds).
Musicians playing on the album included the sensationally subtle drummer Brian Blade, guitarist Bill Frisell and a group of other musicians if not well known then are better known now. Someone made the choice to record and mix to analog tape—not much of that was happening back then—at Sorcerer Sound and Allaire Studios in New York, with mixing at famed Sear Sound, home of a lot of tube gear and analog tape.
This is a project overseen from the beginning by then Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall (in yet another coincidence he lives literally down the block from me). The entire project from the songs, to the superb recorded sound and packaging just reeks of good taste. And it couldn't have come cheaply. The label or someone made a major financial investment in an unknown's debut album.
The investment paid of as the album sold more than twenty six million copies and won numerous awards. It wasn't that much of a risk really. Jones's amalgam of jazz, country, folk and a touch of rock produced something new and highly attractive to a wide demographic.
The acoustic music was intimately and delicately drawn. Jones' piano surprisingly echoed Floyd Cramer. Her voice had a twenties flapper soft coo quality but it never sounded precious and her delivery produced a soft power. The whole package came across as wholesomely sexy but refreshingly not salacious. When Jones sang "Come Away With Me" what guy didn't want to go? It didn't hurt that she had wholesome, exotic good looks.
Does anyone reading this not have come away with me? Classic Records issued it on 180g vinyl and it was among the label's biggest sellers, mastered from the original analog tapes by Bernie Grundman and pressed at RTI. Great music and superb sonics.
Since then Jones has issued a series of albums that nudged the needle just a bit from the first album's successful formula beginning with 2004's "Feels LIke Home" an album filled with melancholic songs about self-doubt and a break-up. It includes a duet with Dolly Parton. Garth Hudson adds an accordion on one track. The final song "Don't Miss You At All" brought the inner turmoil to a fine finale. The album is like peeking into a diary or in some ways hiding under Norah's bed and sharing hear intimate heartache.
That was followed by 2007's Not Too Late, an even more melancholic and intimately drawn set wherein the singer seems to have not quite gotten over the heartache and thinks maybe her former beau might come back. The album works to perfection, thanks to the deft arrangements, more spare and intimate than before, despite the inclusion of some horns and organ. It might be my favorite of the bunch, something I didn't realize until I sat down and played through the entire box.
Jones issued The Fall in 2009. She picks up where she left off, in a Hi Records kind of Al Green groove with a riff that sounds like The Stones' "Miss You". The album traces a romance. She sings "something about the way he touched me" in "Even Though" but she's hesitant. Eventually all of her negative expectations play out after a delightful series of tunes. The closer, "Man of the Hour" opens with the memorable line: " 'It's him or me,' that's what he said, but I can't choose between a vegan and a pot head." In the end the album's protagonist chooses the secure company of a dog! Thus the great cover shot. It's also a great album.
Little Broken Hearts produced by Danger Mouse was issued in 2012. Can't blame Jones for wanting to try something new but the results are definitely an acquired taste for those who dug the earlier stuff and as is usually the case with Danger Mouse, it's too fucking loud as in compressed to shit and thoroughly unpleasant to listen to, except maybe on a treadmill or running with an iPod. That's where it's aimed but I doubt the Black Keys crowd is buying and the older fans probably won't bite. I like Black Keys. I just wish they too would lay off the compression. The new Dr. John album is great music squashed in the service of iTunes. I just hate it.
The bonus LP features covers culled from outtakes from previous albums, some of which were previously released on limited CD issues, or on DVDs or albums on other labels. It includes covers of tunes by The Everly Brothers, Dylan, Wilco, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and others in Jones's musical wheelhouse. It's a nice compilation.
The packaging is exquisite from the textured box to the highest quality graphics and paper on cardboard jackets. All is absolutely first-rate as are the pressings. The records coming out of QRP are definitely living up the pressing plant's early promise. This kind of drop dead black quiet is precisely what's required for Jones's music and QRP delivers it. Kevin Gray's mastering is equally superb. I compared the Classic come away with me mastered by Bernie Grundman and it's damn good but Gray gets more warmth and transparency from the tape. It's amazing. Classic issued the second and third album too, but at a time when it was having difficulties with 200 gram pressings at its newly set up pressing operation. Jones whistles on "Little Room" from the Not Too Late album. It sounds like she's in the room whistling. I swear!
Too much Jones? That's a judgment call you'll have to make when deciding whether to drop $260 on this set. I was surprised how easily and pleasurable it was to go through the whole box numerous times before writing it up. The sonics throughout are superb other than on the Danger Mouse produced album but even that's been made better than what you'll hear on the seedee—whatever Kevin Gray did to warm it up.
This limited edition box encapsulates an original's decade long output, almost all of which is consistently solid music making, produced and recorded with impeccable taste. If your girlfriend or wife likes Norah, this would make a great Valentine's Day gift and it's sure to score big points.