Come Away With Me Has Never Sounded Better

Genre-busting artists often disappoint stylistically because they end up diluting the power of their influences while failing to create a fusion as substantial as any of the components. Even if artistically successful, their debut albums often suffer disappointing sales due to the vagaries of marketing and promotional placement. Tossing music into a prefabricated slot is one thing, creating a new one is another. In the case of stylistically ambiguous Norah Jones, it has all come together brilliantly.

This, her debut album, quickly attracted a strong following when it was issued early last year on Blue Note (though it is not strictly a jazz album), and it appears to be building a growing fan base as diverse as Jones's musical influences. If all of this is old news, sorry. The occasion for this review is Classic's recent 200-gram SV-P gatefold vinyl issue.

For cynics in the music business who dismiss the value or commercial viability of careful A&R work (finding and compiling good tunes), of smart, spare productions and "high fidelity" engineering, and of presenting an artist simply and honestly, the continued success and extended shelf life of Come Away With Me should be a shock to the system (though you could say Diana Krall's discography has already shocked that system). While Come Away With Me explores new musical territory, it is built upon the aforementioned old-fashioned 1950s record biz ingredients.

Key to the album's distinctive country-jazz feel is Jones's Floyd Cramer-ish piano chordings propelled by Lee Alexander's syncopated double-bass beat. Adam Levy's electric guitar lines on the title track ring more of country twang than jazz virtuosity, but the references, as with everything on this disc, are understated. You get the sense that one of Jones's first recorded encounters with the piano was Floyd Cramer's "bent-note" laden "Last Date." The Cramer influence makes even more sense considering the late pianist's eclectic musical background: he played with Elvis, Perry Como, Roy Orbison, and jazz/country guitarist Hank Garland. But then, I'm just speculating. Despite the star's piano, guitars dominate most of the arrangements here, helping to add another layer of musical complexity.

Jones's breathy, feline vocals reference neither a Patricia Barber-style hipster nor an early k.d. lang cowboy; the lilting roll to her "L"s and a number of other subtle affectations suggest black vocal influences, or possibly that's her racial heritage speaking (from the cover photo, even that's ambiguous). Out of desperation to slot her somewhere, she's been compared to Billie Holiday, perhaps because of her pitch and timbre.

Whatever the crafty complex components of the musical mix, when Jones beckons you to "Come away with me..." on the title track, you definitely want to go. Songwriting chores are shared by Jones, bassist Alexander, and guitarist Jesse Harris (who recently cut his own solo recording deal), and there are covers by Hank Williams ("Cold, Cold Heart") and John D. Loudermilk ("Turn me on"). Accenting the unpredictable, the set ends with Jones soloing on the Hoagy Carmichael standard "The Nearness of You."

The production credits are intriguing: while the veteran Arif Mardin gets the major credit, two tracks get Mardin credit with "original tracks produced by Norah Jones and Jay Newland," while two others are credited to Craig Street with "additional production by Norah Jones and Jay Newland." Street has produced outstanding records (musically and sonically) by Patricia Barber, k.d. lang, and many others. Why the split credits here? Could be that Jones and Newland began producing by themselves, putting five tracks in the can, and later brought Street in to finesse them to completion. Perhaps after working with Street on three tracks, he fell out of favor and they brought in Mardin to finish the other two and to produce the remainder of the 17 tracks. But I'm just speculating. (Street's phone numbers in my Rolodex are out of date.)

Regardless, the sound on all of the tracks is stellar--everything an audiophile might want: Jones's voice is up-front and daringly dry and natural, with all of the acoustic instruments cleanly and warmly rendered. Even the drums are back-of-the-stage and not panned unnaturally across the whole thing. If any studio dross has been tacked on (which I doubt), it's been done so subtly you won't notice.

I didn't have the CD to compare, but few reading this will care: Classic's 200-gram Quiex SV-P pressing is superb, and the gatefold paper-on-cardboard construction takes us back to the glory days of the LP, which, it can be argued, have returned. A superb vinyl issue of a winning debut.

There's a line in the J.D. Loudermilk tune that goes, "My hi-fi is waiting for a new tune...turn me on." If you're not yet turned on to Come Away With Me, do yourself a favor and take Jones's advice!

mommyiloveyou's picture

There is no reason on why this single will hit on the market , this have been back by a group expert in music industry plus a beautiful singer. - Scott Safadi