Pick Me Up Off the Floor and ...'Til We Meet Again—A Norah Jones "Twofer" Review

I meant to review this album of Norah Jones "extras" that she released last year but it kind of slipped through the cracks. It plays like a carefully thought out thematic song cycle but it isn't. Instead it's a set of "leftovers" from a series of collaborative efforts, many of which were released as singles. You might even think it's a personal "break-up" album, particularly given the album title, but it's not that either.

Jones's self-produced seventh album in her twenty year career that began with the mega-hit Come Away With Me is a low key, introspective collection of mostly self-penned tunes that are more blues and pop-oriented and less jazzy. With song titles that include "How I Weep", "Hurts to Be Alone", Heartbroken, Day After", it's easy to hear it as a "break-up" album, but the songs dig deeper and the themes are often more multi-dimensional than strictly personal and some are more abstract than literal.

Nonetheless there's no escaping the mostly downcast, "get me out of here" mood, which is completely understandable in the past few years' undeniably unsettled environment. Two collaborations with Jeff Tweedy, "I'm Alive" and "Heaven Above" produce rare moments of resiliency in the otherwise melancholic proceedings with a basic piano, bass and drums trio of revolving players augmented by horns, strings, pedal steel, Hammond B-3 organ and background singers. Other than the opener "How I Weep", which features a full string section all of the arrangement are for small groupings, dryly recorded, which keeps the musical environment intimate. Even the opener tucks the strings in and keeps them from dominating. The versatile, always interesting drummer Brian Blade plays on half a dozen tunes, and of course the Tweedy collaborations are guitar-laced and add a folk-drive.

So subtly drawn is this album, so delicately delivered are the dewdrop arrangements that it might take more than a few listenings for it to fully draw you in but once it does, the parts fit well together and the ingenuity of the arrangements will register. I'm thinking in particular of "It Hurts to Be Alone", which includes an ingenious mix of subtle, easy to miss elements hiding in plain sight.

Not to worry though, as Jones sings on "Heartbroken Day After"—"Oh, hey, hey/It's gonna be okay/My little one/I promise/We'll find our way/Hey, Hey/Don't look so worried/We'll have to hurry/And climb out of this mess we've made."

Despite many parts being "flown in" from outside studios, the overall sonics are coherent and pleasing, if somewhat dry. Turn up the volume and dig Blades' subtle sound!.

More recently Jones released Norah Jones ...'Til We Meet Again a globetrotting two LP live, career covering album recorded between 2017 and 2019 in eight venues in California, France, Brazil, Argentina, Italy and the closer, an intense, heartfelt solo cover of Chris Cornell's classic "Black Hole Sun", recorded in Detroit's Fox Theater a few days after his surprising death by suicide.

These trio and quartet recordings make for an ideal introduction to Norah Jones' exceptional musicianship and performance chops not to mention her deep audience connection, especially considering that she's not the most demonstrative live performer. Theres' little patter and even less audience engagement other than where it counts. Clearly the audiences loved these performances.

The problem for home listeners is that these are clearly board mixes so rather than producing the kind of "stage intimacy" created by the best live recordings where you feel as if you are either on stage or in the first few rows, the sound puts you well back in the audience soaked in the sound reinforcement reverb.

The Weavers or Belafonte at Carnegie Hall sound it's definitely not!

The "sound reinforcement" kind of presentation works better (if it works at all) for rock than it does for jazz/folk so you may not find the sonic experience all that enticing, though Jones's performances and those of her group might get you past the less than intimate board mixes.

On the other hand, if you miss the feel of being in the audience at a live concert, here you go—and it would be a shame to miss her version here of "Sunrise" recorded in Buenos Aires because it's spectacular so at least stream that and then maybe you'll want to buy the album.! (Note: the music rating is for both albums, the sound rating is for "PMUOTF")

Music Direct Buy It Now

Music Direct Buy It Now

PeterPani's picture

Pick Me Up Off the Floor and ...the sound does not match the warm voice of Mrs. Jones. I guess, this one was digitally recorded and would - on my hifi - rate the sound with 6. Regarding the music - perfect for a sofasurfing evening and in the right mood even 10. This one could have been a really really good record...

At the moment I am waiting for my preordered Analog Productions 15ips Ultratape of Jones "Come Away With Me". This one must be magnificient, if it is similar handled from AP as their other Ultratapes.

(off topic, but for vinyl lovers relevant: there are already new commercial contemporary classical recordings from Deutsche Grammophon out on vinyl, but no CD at all! see https://www.discogs.com/release/16092844)

jazz's picture

sound better than the same LP pressing from the 1st generation master on a great turntable.

Michael Fremer's picture
Ying Tan played a one of the master tape of an AAA Vanessa Fernandez recording vs the 4rpm record on a good but not "top shelf" TT and the differences were obvious but really minor. I'd like to compare one of these 3rd gen tapes to an original pressing one of these days. I'm having a Revox A-700 restored. It's not "top tier tape" but should be good enough to get some idea.
PeterPani's picture

I play my old mono tapes on an old mono Revox C36 and the stereo tapes on a G36 and more often on an A-700, too. But I play the heads into an external deHavilland 222 tubed tonehead-preamp. But in that I exchanged the front FET-input amp for a tubed input, too.

The best thing about tapes is that the tonehead cost is around $200 and that's it (compared to $10000 for a cartridge for that sound quality - and you never know:
isn't there a better one around?). But if you buy 25 tapes for each $450 you already break even with 25 LP's plus the $10000 cartridge...

An expensive hobby, but listening to tape gives something different: the tonehead always tracks quietly and takes every dynamic peak without hassle. And to know that calms my soul and gives peace during listening.

jazz's picture

I also enjoyed my old simple Revox B at the time. But limiting my music selection for this game to a very low multiple of 25 tapes wouldn’t meet my demand of musical variety by several thousands ;-)

jazz's picture

a turntable guru producing one of the world’s best turntables and arms (over 200k) and having explicit experience with tape machines and owned several, as well as, among others, golden era master tapes and original vinyl told me, that the central advantage of tape against vinyl on turntables below the soft isolated high mass class is its bass authority and impact. Owners of turntables within that class, he says, know this level of bass authority, too. The weakness of the tape machines from his info is the little sophistication of their electronics , tape aging and the floating and difficult to maintain exact adjustment.

So the interesting comparison is the one with turntable/arm/cartridge combinations say over 30-50k.

It’s often fun to read the similar argumentation of the two camps regarding the media. The turntable camp says, tape begins to lose extension already right after the recording process, which is the reason why Mercury (I think that was it) had its cutting equipment right besides or under the recording/concert hall and immediately started mastering/cutting.

The tape camp says vinyl loses extension by abrasive wear with each playback.

PeterPani's picture

abrasive wear is (to me) not the problem. I will never play my records so many times that this will be a problem, because my collection is too huge. Also the ticks during vinyl playing do not bother me (except really bad pressings). But the authority of tracking of the needle in combination with the right damping by the pickup-preamp.Even my best setups have short moments of distortion during dynamic peaks or heavy singing in classical music. Also something like a playing of guitar gets additional distortion compared to a tape playback head. Extension loss in tape is a problem of bad storaged old tapes (but very very seldom, can be neglected). Main problem with tapes is the exchange from one tape reel to the next. The handling has to be careful and disrupts the listening sessions. Especially, 2-track tapes have to be spooled back carefully after listening.

Toptip's picture

No, you should ideally not do that, two-track tape should be stored “tails out” and only rewound prior to playing. Playback produces a much neater, evenly wound stack that rewinding hardly ever can.

DrJB's picture

There is no shortage of NJ live recordings on DVD, Blu Ray etc. that have not, to my knowledge, been mastered for vinyl. The 2004 Ryman set comes to mind--haven't listened to it in many years--but Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Dolly Parton and a bunch of A-list Nashville session musicians back up Jones. I'd love to see it remastered for vinyl. What sticks in my mind was the tasteful guitar work by Adam Levy and Robbie Macintosh.

I think that you correctly identified the "can't miss" concept for the current record: A globetrotting, career spanning, greatest hits with other nuggets set that would have mass appeal while cashing in on the vinyl craze and the dearth of live music from COVID lockdowns. From the record label's perspective, people will buy it for the James Bond mystique and the setlist. Audiophiles were not part of the conversation. And I agree, the artists and fans do deserve a better sonic effort.

DrJB's picture

The sheer variety and number of venues from which the recordings were taken would present a challenge to the engineers who worked on the live album. Outdoors, indoors, huge crowds, smaller crowds, high/low ceilings, open/closed backed stages, even the ambient temperature and humidity would impact the timbre of the recordings. So taking the tracks from the front of house board makes total sense to me. Some of the songs--especially those recorded in Santa Rosa and Rio—would have benefitted from a few extra well-placed crowd mics.

Looking at this from a slightly different POV, I think that the album has remarkable consistency in terms of dynamics and tonal balance. I'm gonna both agree and disagree with Michael regarding the time based issues--delay, echo, and reverb. True, they are not in line with the very best live recordings, but I think they are very well controlled and presented on the album, again considering the fact that eight wildly different venues were used. Other than that, there is nothing about the recordings that detract even in the slightest from the outstanding performances. The bass and kick drum, which present some of the biggest challenges with live recordings, have a nice attack, and they are deep and well-balanced. Jesse Murphy’s standup bass sounds really cool on my VPI Prime/Grado Ref 3/Sutherland/BW/REL setup, which admittedly is limited compared with some of you folks. The small combo provides plenty of space for Jones' piano and Pete Remm's exceptional performance on the Hammond organ.

With a world class talent like Norah Jones, the onus is on the studio mix engineers to avoid getting too cute or gimmicky. I would have Universal Audio’s Capitol Chambers slathered all over this thing with endless echo repeats (where appropriate, of course), and I would rout that piano through Al Schmitt’s Chamber 2 until the cows come home. A vocoder would be totally cool on Sunrise, and you gotta run the bass through an old phaser; and there’s not nearly enough distortion on the B-3. Gotta make it sound like Styx.

All kidding aside, I think its an excellent recording with outstanding performances by every band member, and Norah Jones still has amazing vocal range and control.

DrJB's picture

Al Schmitt's favorite echo chamber at Capitol Studios is Chamber 4, not 2. Just wanted to get that straight even though I know that audiophile never nitpick.

Michael Fremer's picture
I probably should have pointed out how consistent were the mixes and masters of the various tracks recorded at so many different venues, but I think if you're going to produce a live album like this, it's best to record one venue over several evenings (if at all possible) and produce a unique stage mix rather than grab board mixes. These musicians and Norah Jones deserve that as do home listeners.
audiotom's picture


For an intimate acoustic performance try

Rachel and Vilray

A stunning retro laid back performance

Lushly recorded and performed vocals and acoustic guitar
Rachel is Rachel Price from Lake Street Dive

If you like Norah I think you’d love it

JoeESP9's picture

I am singularly underwhelmed with this recording. It reminds me of Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill. I don't like that either. Both come off to me as complete downers. I want music to lift my spirits, not make me depressed.

FWIW: I have purchased both.