Norah Jones – Featuring Norah Jones – Blue Note Records/EMI 509999 09869 2 5, 71:26 ****½:
(Norah Jones in duets with Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Foo Fighters, Dolly Parton, Outkast, Herbie Hancock, and many others)
It is difficult to imagine that Norah Jones has been around long enough to have an extended set of collaborations. Yet is has been nearly nine years since the release of her stunning debut album, Come Away With Me. This release catapulted the singer to instant celebrity status, selling twenty million copies, while gathering five Grammies. However the rapid ascension to stardom does not reflect the caliber of musicianship. The daughter of Ravi Shankar, she was born in Brooklyn and moved to Texas, pursuing a musical education. As a high school student, she won DownBeat Student Music Awards Awards for Composition and Jazz Vocals, prompting relocation to New York.
Within two years, she was signed to Blue Note Records, issuing a demo, First Sessions, in 2001. Performing as a lounge singer, and working with a jazz band, Jones would develop a unique sense of composition, piano playing, and most of all, her exceptional voice. The debut album showcased the results of hard work. This was a musician who had the talent to interpret a wide variety of musical idioms, integrating them into her vocal stylizations. Jazz, pop, blues and country had an organic fit. This flexibility created a demand for her services.
…Featuring Norah Jones is a collection spanning nearly ten years of assorted joint sessions. Eighteen tracks, emphasizing a wide spectrum of partnership, are explored in studio and live arrangements. What is impressive is that her voice meshes in every context. On her duet with Willie Nelson (“Baby It’s Cold Outside”), an easygoing dialogue is established with aplomb. Jones’ piano also goes well with Nelson’s acoustic guitar. A soulful take redefines the country classic, “Here We Go Again” as she trades leads with Ray Charles in heartfelt exchanges. Jones uncanny sense of harmony is evident on “Loretta”, in divine confluence with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Country influences abound in duets with Dolly Parton (“Creepin’ In”) and Sasha Dobson (Bull Rider”). In these upbeat tunes, Jones’ voice entwines with her fellow singers.
Some unusual covers add some spice to the mixture. A rework of the Roxy Music atmospheric, “More Than This” (with former band mate, Charlie Hinter) is fresh in a jazzy bossa nova rendition. The relaxed vocals help to capture the romantic mood of the song. The Latin flavor can be heard on “Virginia Moon”, in a departure for the Foo Fighters. Running the gamut from hip hop (“Take Off Your Cool” with Outkast) to gospel blues (“Love Me” with The Little Willies”), Jones blends effortlessly.
In spite of the specific format, the track sequence manages to sustain a rhythmic flow. The willingness to join together in an artistic statement elevates …Featuring Norah Jones above typical duet projects.
TrackList: Love Me; Virginia Moon; Turn Them; Baby It’s Cold Outside; Bull Rider; Ruler Of My Heart; The Best Part; Take Off Your Cool; Life Is Better; Soon The New Day; Little Lou, Prophet Jack, Ugly John; Here We Go Again; Loretta; Dear John; Creepin’ In; Court And Spark; More Than This; Blue Bayou.
— Robbie Gerson