Norah Jones – Belcourt Theater (Nashville, TN)
Believe the hype.
Well, most of it. Rarely does the critical community rise up as one to hail such a storm of praise on a new artist; rarer still is the artist who merits and can survive all those words and glossy pictures and fawning affections.
Touring with bassist Lee Alexander and guitarist Adam Levy, whose work is at the core of her debut, Come Away With Me, Jones delivered a performance that betrayed none of the grueling promotional schedule which comes with being the next big thing. Indeed, she played with great poise and calm, smiling at her squirming niece (who happened to be sitting two chairs away), easy with herself and her music, and delighted with her companions onstage.
And, yes, what you hear on disc (or on the radio) is what she sounds like in person. This is no small thing. She has a lovely, supple voice and lets her piano playing set a gentle, loping pace. It is a quiet, powerful, elegant presentation, greeted with much of the rapture that once fell to the Cowboy Junkies, though her audience (taking greater license because this might be jazz) feels more free to interject.
Like her debut, Jones’s short set worked wisely between canny covers and songs she and her friends have written. This is all new, and fresh, and still a delight, so a few songs after Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart”, she introduced a new piece Levy had just written on the bus with a little help from his friends.
Most striking, however, is the simplicity and restraint with which she plays. Levy took some longish and expressive solos, but Jones played and sang utterly without superfluities. No ornamentation, no flourishes of ostentatious virtuosity, nothing but the song and her voice.
If she has a visible flaw, it may be — oddly — the purity of that voice. Though her melodies run toward blues, her vocals have not yet acquired the wear and wisdom of age, and so they are simply beautiful and deft, not yet deeply expressive.
And, because Jones is still finding her way as an artist, it is as possible that she will become a pop star, or a standard singer, or nothing more than she is right now, or maybe the next Laura Nyro.
But for the moment, she is an unadorned joy to hear.