Considering the fact that her weary palette has made each of
her three albums an ongoing exercise in overwrought emotion, the prospect of a
live DVD from Norah Jones doesn’t promise much in the way of an eye – or, for
that matter, an ear — opening experience.
Which is all the more reason why this performance, taped in the
respected confines of Austin City Limits and issued as part of New West’s
superb series bearing the same name, is truly so surprising. Recorded in June of last year, it finds
Jones’ solemn soundscapes so emboldened and so ignited, it completely dismisses
any notions that would lead to lowered expectations.
Those surprises are evident even at the outset. Jones disposes of “Come Away With Me” for her
first number rather than holding it as the inevitable encore, shifting its
stance away from a smoky barroom ballad while reinventing it as a loose and
limber back porch ramble. It becomes the
ideal set-up for all that follows, as Jones nimbly adapts to Austin’s Americana
environs by creating a spellbinding synthesis of musical templates, one that
makes any distinction between her sensual cocktail jazz and a truly authentic
down home embrace all but indistinguishable.
What’s more, she does it without relying on her most credible claim to
country, the take on Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” included on her debut.
The revelations don’t end there, either. While her recordings are dappled with a
low-lit glow, here her music radiates with rich textures and stunning detail,
thanks to her deft piano playing and a superb backing band that accentuates
every passage with craft and precision.
From the sassy swagger of “Sinkin’ Soon” (with guest J. Walter Hawkes
playing what sounds like a talking trumpet!) to the caress and croon of
“Thinking About You and “Be My Somebody,” the music’s never less than
mesmerizing. If she sometimes seems aloof
on record, her onstage persona, though not necessarily animated, still rises
above that quiet reserve. Even guest M
Ward — a performer also known for a downcast demeanor – is shaken from his
stupor, infusing their gentle duets on country classics “Hands on the Wheel”
and “Blue Bayou” with a genuinely compelling connection. By the time she reaches her final number – a
much-anticipated “Don’t Know Why” – Jones has her audience completely
It’s clear, then, that to witness her live is to experience
Jones at her best. Suffice it to say
it’s even better than hoped for.
Standout tracks: “Come
Away With Me,” “Thinking About You,” “Sinkin’ Soon” LEE ZIMMERMAN