Norah’s new tricks

Posted on 01 Feb 2007 at 7:39pm
By Gilbert Garcia – Pop Music Critic

3rd time charmer: Dallas-bred songwriter emerges with a smarter, more distinctive direction



AND SHE CAN WRITE: This time, Norah crafts all the tunes.

Norah Jones
“Not Too Late”
Blue Note

Her 2002 debut, “Come Away With Me” was overplayed. And her 2004 follow-up, “Feels Like Home,” was overlooked. This year, Norah Jones returns with a surprise.

“Not Too Late” marks a notable shift for the sweet-voiced crooner. For the first time, the former Dallasite delivers an entire collection of self-composed songs. The independent princess also breaks from the shackles of Jones’ signature formula: Gone are vague, innocuous love-songs and gauzy pop-jazz interpretations of blues and country.

In their place, Jones offers thoughtful and often dark compositions. An impressive evolution from the cute cocktail pianist image that she cultivated on her last two records, “Not Too Late” establishes Jones as a distinctive and impressive songwriting voice.

While the change in Jones’ lyrical tone is clear from the beginning of this disc, her sound remains close to her earlier organic work. Piano and acoustic guitar make up a large part of the instruments, though Jones does occasionally add R&B bass, organ and drums for numbers like the sultry feel-bad “Thinking About You” or the slow-simmering “Rosie’s Lullaby.”

As usual, vocals seldom rise above a coo, though they feel packed with a passion and immediacy a refreshing departure for Jones, who always came off like a lackadaisical singer.


Potentially putting her popularity among the Starbuck’s nation at risk, Jones takes a stab at political commentary with the Tom Waits-inspired Tin Pan Alley number “My Dear Country.” Other comments come in the record opener “Wish I Could,” where Jones sings, “Love in the time of war is not fair / He was my man, but they didn’t care.”

Whatever weaknesses mar “Not Too Late” are largely due to sticking to old habits like the dainty and underwhelming “The Sun Doesn’t Like You” shows. The playful acoustic bass and guitar duo “My Little Room” might have seemed like a fun idea in the studio, but it stands out here for its sloppiness and frivolity. At a lucky 13 tracks, “Not Too Late” possesses more pluses than minuses.



GAY GIGS AT SXSW 2007

This year’s South by Southwest music conference (March 14-18) is only six weeks away. And anticipation keeps building over the possible talent lineup that will be hitting Austin.

Organizers still haven’t announced the official roster for 2007. But by researching “on tour” pages of band’s Web sites, the blogosphere is buzzing with more-or-less confirmed acts for the four-day festival.

This year, SXSW celebrates its 21st anniversary. In the past, gay acts might have been on the sidelines, but expect 2007 to be SXSW’s Big Queer Year with some heavy-hitting GLBT draws.

London post-punkers Bloc Party first appeared at SXSW in 2005, just as their debut disc “Silent Alarm” was beginning to take hold. Now, with their follow-up “A Weekend in the City” and lead singer Kele Okereke officially coming out of the closet, this foursome finds itself one of the hottest acts of the SXSW 2007 a sure sellout.

It’s open for debate whether fellow SXSW vets Scissor Sisters owe their success in the U.S. to their 2004 visit. But putting themselves in front of so many industry folks certainly didn’t hurt. This year, as they continue to promote their second release “Ta-Dah,” the queer supergroup returns to Texas as conquering heroes.

As a follow-up to his ridiculously well attended 2006 show, eternal misanthrope Morrissey also returns this year, no doubt drawing the same fawning fans that made last year’s gig such an SRO spectacle.

Among the less-well-known queer interest acts are bisexual New York folkie Rachel Sage and Seattle punk-metal enthusiasts These Arms Are Snakes, who feature queer bassist Brian Cook.

While not officially queer, Norway’s Turbonegro should also warrant attention for their explicitly gay lyrics and questionable stage antics.

At press time, ticket information wasn’t available. But interested parties should keep an eye on the festival Web site at SXSW.com for updates on the much-coveted wristbands. As big and inconvenient as this event has become, it’s also one of the best chances for Texans to catch some of the most promising bands from around the country in one place at one time with relatively little effort.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 2, 2007

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