Norah Jones reinvents her sound on winsome pop folk CD
Holy Makeover. Listening to Norah Jones new CD The Fall makes it hard to believe her previous three releases were jazz albums. This new disc is all pop rock, folk rock, and piano ballads in the 4/4 time signature. Through it all, Jones delivers fine pop music within her clever song structures.
The Fall opens with the bouncy keyboard melody of “Chasing Pirates,” a definite adult contemporary pop song with a catchy vocal melody and a hooky chorus. “Even Though” is a contemplative pop rock piece that you would not hear on the radio stations playing her first three albums.
Co-written by Jesse Harris, “Even Though,” has atmospheric keys surrounding a knobby bass line and Jones’ voice becomes pop whispery in a 1980s new wave nostalgic trip.
“Light As A Feather,” co-written with Ryan Adams, starts out heavy in the bass and drums with a moody keyboard ambiance keeping this dark. Jones phrases her way perfectly through the maze of emotive music in this contemplation of the unbearable lightness of being. Jones also plays electric and acoustic guitars here and her picking style is nimble and precise.
Three songs in and I’m wondering if the jazz chanteuse will ever return. By the end of this CD I’m no longer missing her. Jones may have changed styles but her talent remains intact. She wrote and co-wrote every song here. Her six string electric picking has me waiting to see her handle an axe live.
Jones handles her slow song “I Wouldn’t Need You” with a masterful control over dynamics, making this song something that stirs the emotions while it pleases the ear.
Her sharp vocal delivery on “Waiting” could make this song stand without music. Her glockenspiel and her electric guitars are icing on the cake, just enough tinkling notes with just enough edge.
“It’s Gonna Be” is a snappy rocker in the tradition of Billy Joel with Jones’ Wurlitzer keeping the groove and soul. The Wurlitzer sounds like a rhythm guitar, so it’s no surprise that Jones’ added more electric to her repertoire for this outing.
Jones has always been a sophisticated music composer. Now, she adds more colors and brush strokes. Jones is the daughter of Indian musicians Ravi Shankar and professional dancer Sue Jones, so to say creativity is in her genes would be an understatement.
“Stuck” could be the next hit single to fall off The Fall. Its lush guitar layers are catchy as hell, the rhythm section snaps everything so perfectly, and Jones’ voice massages every nuance out of the melody.
I’m not sure what category Jones will be nominated in at this year’s Grammy show. She will, however, be nominated for quite a few.
Katharine McPhee goes for broke on sophomore Unbroken CD
The season five American Idol runner up has inexplicably recorded a confident follow up to her debut album. Seemingly embolden by her previous album‘s weak sales and being cut off from RCA Records, McPhee gets more assertive and strident this time around. “Had It All,” her first single off this disc, finds McPhee shining over a full band sound, her vocal range extensive enough to keep the players in check.
McPhee is the best singer to emerge from American Idol since Kelly Clarkson, even if RCA made a harsh executive decision when her second single didn’t soar up the charts like her first. She co-wrote six songs on this new CD, and those are the best ones, though hit single comes to mind when listening to many of these tunes. “Keep Drivin” has hit single written all over it. McPhee’s sweet, ethereal voice glides through her chorus, and keyboard, piano and synth, create an alluring backdrop for her tenacious vocal stretches.
“Last Letter” is another combo of snappy musicianship backing an angelic voice. McPhee sings about writing a final letter to a former love. She wants to let him know she has moved on. Strangely, the song could be directed to the shortsighted bean counters at RCA. Acoustic guitar alone starts the song before a full band comes in, and McPhee can soar with sparse or full accompaniment.
McPhee’s piano ballad “Surrender” reaches many high points, hitting the high notes while hitting a listener’s emotional bull’s eye with her warm girlish voice. It’s the moment on “Terrified” when the band stops and she keeps singing that McPhee’s vocal power is most on display, having no problem filling the space on her own. It’s a hooky song she duets on with Jason Reeves ,and it is likely to be another hit for her.
There are so many more good things to say about McPhee‘s talent on this recording. “How” has McPhee’s lush vocal filling the chorus with a winsome charm, and “Say Goodbye” makes a perfect vehicle to showcase the sweeter side of her range. “Fault Line” gives her a chance to show vocal muscle in a slow build of emotions and dynamics.
“Anybody’s Heart” let’s her strut her stuff over quiet acoustic guitar, cello, and violin, and she matches the beauty of those strings with her stirring voice. “Lifetime,” written by McPhee and her guitarist Boots Ottestad is one of the album’s best. They wrote a good hook and McPhee found a great way to approach it.
McPhee’s title track “Unbroken” was co-written with Paula Cole and it works as a good second to last song. McPhee closes out with Melanie Salka’s 1971 folk-pop hit, “Brand New Key,” showing she is not afraid to invite comparison to such a popular staple of the folk-pop genre. McPhee has fun rendering this track with respect to its source.
Good Evening New York City
A three-disc set that I purchased as a Christmas gift to myself turned out to be my favorite present. The first two CDs each have an hour of live concert material from Paul McCartney’s three sold out shows at New York City’s Citi Field ballpark. The third disc is the DVD visual of the concert and has more of McCartney’s between song banter.
The concert was an extraordinary event for those in attendance and the production of these live discs and DVD is one of the best releases last year. From the opener “Drive My Car” McCartney is on a roll. He keeps up the energy throughout his performance. “Only Mama Knows” from his much overlooked Memory Almost Full CD and other recent material fit in with his Beatles classics and his 1970s solo hits, proving himself to be a timeless pop music composer.
The songs that resonate the most with each individual listener will probably depend on where each was at when they first discovered his music. For those of us who first got into McCartney’s tunes in the 1970s, it will be “Let Me Roll It,” “Live And Let Die,” and “Band On The Run.
The “cute Beatle” definitely wanted to rock out on his last tour. You can tell this by what is missing: the sicky sweet “Silly Love Songs,” “Coming Up,” and “With A Little Luck“. A true gentleman, McCartney also gives a few nods to departed friends, to Lennon in his song “Here Today” and in an excerpt from “Give Peace A Chance” and then to George Harrison when he played “Something” on the ukulele.
That McCartney was unafraid to tackle big ballads “The Long And Winding Road” and “My Love” half way through the first set speaks volumes about his courage as an entertainer. “Sing The Changes” from 2008’s Fireman album sounded as good as anything McCartney wrote and recorded in the 70s, and it was a perfect segue into “Band On The Run,” the hit title track to his most successful solo work, and Sir Paul performed it as the rocker it was when it first exploded onto the radio in 1973.
The only imperfection on these discs is that McCartney and his band cannot duplicate the original vocal harmonies from The Beatles. This is most apparent in “Eleanor Rigby,” “Paperback Writer,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and “Day Tripper.” Of course, he compensates for this with heart felt perfectionism where he can. The surprises here are that he performed “A Day In The Life” and “Helter Skelter,” the former being too technically complex to be played live in the 1960s, and, the latter was smeared back in the day by a deranged criminal.
Good Evening New York City is a must have for anyone who loves The Beatles, Paul McCartney solo, and great rock and roll music.