Disc Reviews

I never got it when Norah Jones seemingly came out of nowhere to become the world's darling in 2002 when her debut Come Away With Me sold 18 million copies and won something like 8 Grammys.

norah jones disk 88 298 (photo credit: )
norah jones disk 88 298
(photo credit: )
NORAH JONES Not Too Late (NMC) I never got it when Norah Jones seemingly came out of nowhere to become the world's darling in 2002 when her debut Come Away With Me sold 18 million copies and won something like 8 Grammys. Sure, she was good, but...18 million? Mixing easy listening blues and piano jazz and pop, it was all very tasteful, but a little snoozy, wasn't it? Her next CD, Feels Like Home, was more of the same, so it was an unexpected surprise to hear the stripped down stark approach of Not Too Late. Without the soft rock velvety sound of late producer Arif Mardin to offer cover material and provide a glossy sameness to her sound, Jones has been forced to look inward and define her own style. She's written or co-written most of the 13 songs on Not Too Late, and that hands on approach makes it a much more personal record than its predecessors. Tunes like "Wish I Could" and "The Sun Doesn't Like You" (with great 'shaker' percussion) are almost indie folk in their approach, like Jones had been listening to the bohemian coffeehouse music of Regina Spektor (who appears in Israel this week along with Sean Lennon). There's still the jazz and blues touch to tracks like "Until the End" and "Be My Somebody", but even they have a more engaging sound, like they're first take knockoffs instead of the result of countless hours spent on arrangements and retakes. Not Too Late may not sell 18 million copies, but Norah Jones has picked up at least one new fan. SEAN LENNON Friendly Fire (Helicon) Listening to Sean Lennon's Friendly Fire, it's impossible at first to ignore the gawking quotient. What does the 31 year-old son of Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono sound like? Is he going to try to ape his father's style? Are his lyrics going to reveal anything about his iconic family? But the accomplishment of Lennon's first album in eight years is that upon repeated listenings, those questions fade into the background and the strengths of his songwriting, arrangements and singing comes to the forefront. Blessed with an angelic voice, Lennon projects a personality in his vocals - a refreshing trait which makes him stand out from the American Idol "style over substance" ethos that has taken over pop music of late. And the lyrical content - much of it purported to be centered on the relationship his ex-girlfriend Bijou Phillips had with his best friend, who died in an accident before Lennon could reconcile with him - at least is about something, instead of flowery words about nothing. The driving accompaniment and Elliot Smith-like lilting melody of the first track "Dead Meat" almost hides its lyrics - barbed and vindictive. Most of the album, however is defined by a mellow melancholia and a serious earnestness, that is kept interesting by Lennon's affinity for bright arrangements featuring dominant acoustic guitars leading baroque-style full band arrangements. No screeching guitar solos here from Lennon, who plays multi-instruments, or from his band featuring pal Harper Simon (Paul's son) on guitar, and longtime collaborator and another ex-girlfriend Yuka Honda on keyboards, but plenty of tasteful embellishments and blends. While "Spectacle" and "Would I Be the One" veer towards the sleepy middle of the road, they're evened out by the fun, hand clap-driven, "Headlights" whose harmonies recall, um...a certain fabulous foursome. And the hit single from the album "Parachute" is representative of the high level songcraft Lennon offers throughout - it's not going to set the world on fire, but it's sing-along time when it comes on the radio. Friendly Fire lays the groundwork for a promising musical solo career if Lennon decides to pursue it. After laying low with fringe indie New York bands, and a somewhat inaccessible debut in 1998, he now seems willing and able to stand on his own two feet - with a little help from his friends.