Perhaps my only criticism of Dangermouse’s recent ROME project with Danielle Luppi is that there wasn’t enough Norah Jones on it. The versatile jazz songstress was perhaps the sexiest part of that entire record, and I found myself hankering for more in a way I hadn’t since I first heard her sing ‘Come Away With Me’ all those years ago. Happily for me and everyone else who’s sort of realised that Jones is far more than just that singer your parents like, she decided to capitalise on her time with Brian Burton (in a similar way James Mercer of The Shins did) by making an entire record just with him. Somehow innocuously, the shaggy-haired chill guy in the back of the room has become one of the most in-demand producers in the alternative pop world, and Jones, who’s hung out and sung with everyone from Jack White to Foo Fighters to Andre 3000, has certainly managed to slot herself very nicely into said world. And surprise surprise, the results are great.
While she’s most famous for soundtracking the lazy summer afternoons we all wish would go forever, the daughter of legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar (yes, the one who was George Harrison’s pal) actually has many more feathers in her bow than her first few records let on. She’s a fantastic alt-country crooner, a devastating blues babe and generally the kind of voice you can apply to anything. So good is she, that her last album, …Featuring, collected all the different genres and artists she’s managed to lend her pipes to. But when she’s writing her own stuff, like, really writing, she’s at her best. Pretty Little Hearts, which drops around the world right about now, isn’t going to stun anyone with it’s virtuosity or new sounds. But it’s such a solid, beguiling record that it’s very hard to choose one song to feature. Burton’s taken the spaghetti Western ideas of their last collaboration and opened up the desert to let Jones play her guitar in. That’s how we end up at the jumpy ‘Say Goodbye’, an elegy to going out there and never heading back.
In another world, this could be a Gnarls Barkley song. It’s just weird enough, what with the sudden key changes into the chorus with no forewarning, the crisp drums pattering beneath and those strange guitar arpeggios. Jones is at her most feline; arcing her melody, sliding up to notes like a cat up a street lamp in that adorable way that’s made her a household name. But the real magic is in the pre-chorus, where Burton pushes these wonderfully analog-sounding multi-tracked vocal harmonies into the mix. It’s like Brian Wilson narrating a Jack Kerouac novel, and the only thing we’ve got happening is onomatopoeia. It’s a remarkably well-contained little piece of music, shifting styles like gears on a smooth car, with more than enough gas for everyone. Jones isn’t singing lullabies anymore, she’s empowered as she’s going to be with those doe-eyed tones. It’s unfortunate in this day and age that we turn our backs on singers who really are just that lovely that listening to them is always a pleasure. I feel like I’ve done that previously with Norah Jones, so now I’m atoning for my sins. I’ll take her Little Broken Heart any day.