Saturday, March 28, 2009

March 28: Norah Jones, "Come Away With Me"

Artist: Norah Jones
Album: Come Away With Me
Year: 2002
Label: Blue Note

One could make the case that Blue Note Records is the most well respected and legendary record label in music history. The greatest musicians, most of whom laid the ground-work for today's genres, were all on the Blue Note label at some point in their career. So, when such a label decides to sign their youngest artist in history, music fanatics pay close attention. At just twenty-two years old, a then unknown jazz and blues singer entered New York's famed Sorcerer Sound Studio and recorded a record that would change the world. Norah Jones, and her 2002 debut record, Come Away With Me, are already nothing short of a classic work of American jazz and soul.

When you're the daughter of Ravi Shankar, you sometimes reap the benefits of your genetics. On Come Away With Me, Norah was lucky enough to gain the assistance of legendary producer Arif Mardin (he produced hits for Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gillespie, The Bee Gees, and Carly Simon, among others). Mardin takes Norah's unique blend of jazz, blues, and country and molds them into a cohesive sound that is the definition of the word "beautiful." Topping the charts in over a dozen countries, Come Away With Me pretty much swept the Grammy awards, and it holds the record as the fastest album to ever gain "diamond" certification (that's 10 million copies sold).

Using more than a dozen musicians throughout the record, Jones and Mardin craft gentle, yet bold musical textures, and each band member plays superbly. While a majority of the songs on Come Away With Me were written by band members Lee Alexander (Jones' longtime boyfriend and bass player) and guitarist Jesse Harris, Jones penned two of the songs (the title track and "Nightingale") as well as covering a few of her favorite songs. The band as a whole is stellar, helping to flesh-out Jones' bluesy-western mood. This country influence is a bit of an anomaly for Blue Note, but it is executed with such precision, and blended so seamlessly with the jazz and blues elements, that even "Blue Note purists" can't help but love the record. Jones' backing band clearly understands their collective role and create gentle textures over which Jones places her divine vocals.

The true majesty behind Come Away With Me is in the voice of Norah Jones. Throughout Come Away With Me, Norah Jones pulls influences from Willie Nelson to Nina Simone for her singing, and this seemingly impossible combination produces results that are nothing short of stunning. The terms "sultry" and "elegant" have been used countless times to describe the exquisiteness found in her vocal work. These descriptions work well, but I would add the words "heavenly" and "alluring" as her singing pulls you into each track and keeps you entranced. Jones is able to croon as well as she can swing and her pitch is perfect everywhere she journeys on the musical scale. The truth of the matter is, in the current musical world, there may not be any vocalist with the grace, range, and power equal to that of Norah Jones.

Though children of famous musicians often struggle to make their own name (Jakob Dylan, Julian Lennon), Norah Jones is such an undeniable talent, that her legendary father becomes a footnote to her career. Being the youngest artist ever signed to the famed Blue Note Records is a very intimidating premise, yet Jones proved that there was a reason why she was the one chosen. Her debut record, Come Away With Me, is a blissful musical journey, combining moods from country to jazz to blues, it is truly a one of a kind recording. From her breathtaking vocals, to her classic piano work, to the perfection of her backing musicians, Norah Jones constructed an album that is as close to flawless as you'll ever find, and for this and other reasons, it is beyond an essential album for ever collection.

Standout tracks: "Cold Cold Heart," "Lonestar," and "Nightingale."

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