Norah Jones,
Feels Like Home
(Bluenote/EMI, 2004)

The follow-up to Norah Jones' multi-Grammy Award-winning album Come Away With Me hit stores just in time for Valentine's Day -- a move that was, I'm sure, a sales stroke of genius. Feels Like Home isn't a radical departure from the material that propelled Jones and her debut album into the spotlight in 2002. But there is enough that's different, that's fresh in this recording that it should manage to avoid the sophomore syndrome that so frequently plagues artists who manage to capture huge audience affection with their first release.

Feels Like Home is less jazzy than its predecessor. It has a healthy dollop of country twang that works well with Jones' drowsy vocal delivery. The country inflections are apparent right from the opening strains of the first single "Sunrise," which launches the album. Over the course of the disc the mood is augmented through guest appearances by such notable musicians as Garth Hudson and Levon Helm (ex of the Band) and Dolly Parton, who lends her distinctive vocal style to "Creepin' In." The approach gives the album a relaxed, friendly feel. And undoubtedly a good deal of credit must be given to returning producer Arif Mardin for finding the ideal balance between Jones' disparate musical influences.

Jones' band is more fully utilized on Feels Like Home than was the case on Come Away With Me. Tracks including "In the Morning," "Above Ground" and my personal favorite, "Toes," make superb, controlled use of multiple guitar tracks. The interplay between Adam Levy's and Kevin Breit's guitars adds tremendously to each of these tracks. Sometimes it's a pairing of acoustic six strings, more often though Breit's resonator guitar is matched with one of Levy's instruments. The combination is lush, textured and yet never attempts to upstage the vocals; Jones quite correctly remains the centerpiece.

Perhaps the biggest change from Come Away With Me is the absence of the writing skills of Jesse Harris who penned five tracks including the hit "Don't Know Why" last time around. Harris still puts in appearances on two tracks, "Those Sweet Words" and "Carnival Town" but Jones herself takes a much more dominant songwriting role on this album. Obviously gaining confidence as a composer Jones writes or co-writes six tracks on Feels Like Home, doubling her 2002 output. She even takes on the daunting task of providing lyrics to a Duke Ellington melody. The resulting track, "Don't Miss You at All," closes out the new album in a beautifully simple manner, Jones as a solo performer, piano and vocals unadorned. It's a wonderful ending to a lovely album.

I do feel the need to end this on a sour note. The Feels Like Home disc contains copy control technology. This means that I can listen to it just fine on my home machine but that it skips near the beginning of each and every track as I'm listening on my computer while I write this. I haven't pirated this disc, I haven't illegally downloaded it. I paid for it. And yet EMI has decided I shouldn't be able to listen to it where and when I please because I might potentially do something wrong. I have no problem with technology that attempts to protect artists from losing money via copyright infringement. But when that technology infringes on my ability to listen to the music in my car, when it's incompatible with my computer's CD player, then that technology is crap.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 20 March 2004

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