wed 17/04/2024

Album: Norah Jones - Visions | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Norah Jones - Visions

Album: Norah Jones - Visions

The 'musical signature' is there, but the songs are insubstantial

'For some it will be mesmerising and hypnotic, for others more like beating inconsequentially around the bush'

Here’s a question: do singer-songwriters produce their strongest songs in times of upheaval, as they seek to express a feeling of “this stuff is hard”? Or do more powerful creations emerge once the anguish has been overcome?

Norah Jones’s Pick Me Up Off the Floor, from 2020, was in the former category. Blue Note label honcho Don Was remembered: “I wanted to reach into the speakers and give her a big hug.” Visions (2024) is in the latter camp. Its clear message is that Norah Jones is in a better place now, and able to celebrate and savour the passing moment.

Cards on the table. For me, Pick Me Up Off the Floor is by far the better album. I note that Grammy judges and other adherents to the American dream (is that still a thing?) will normally pin their allegiances to the feelgood camp: Pick Me Up Off the Floor attracted just one solitary Grammy nomination, and that was for a duet track with Mavis Staples, and perhaps that was merely a running repair after a few years of Grammy-neglect for the veteran Chicagoan rather than any kind of nod to Norah...

Visions sets out the I’m-feeling-better stall right from the start. “Stay with me I'll make it easy,” sings Jones in “All This Time”, a co-write with album producer/ multi-instrumentalist Leon Michels, whose input and producing are an important influence on all 12 tracks. Jones calls the vibe of what they “garage-y but also kind of soulful... but also not overly perfected.”

“All This Time” is a track which lingers around three short groove patterns, without ever feeling any inclination or need to make the effort to develop the material into a song form. It just keeps cycling round from one motif to another until its three minutes are up, and then takes it leave of the listener by gently evaporating into the comforting sound of birdsong. The moment is to be enjoyed, geddit? That repeating of hooks is a regular feature of Visions, as in “I Just Wanna Dance”. For some it will be mesmerising and hypnotic, for others more like beating inconsequentially around the bush.

Norah Jones devotees love everything she does and coo about it, but I have come away from Visions feeling that there is far more substance to her as a musician than has come through here. A friend recently sent me in the direction of the songs of Shawn Colvin, and that was a salutory revelation. The sound, the feel, the accent, that drawl take the listener to a very similar place to Norah Jones, but every one of Colvin’s songs have so much more of a shape and a purpose and direction to them than than what I have been hearing on Visions.

Don Was’s detailed album presentation makes it clear where he sees the value of this album. He writes to Norah Jones as an introduction: “One of the things I think is so special about Visions is that in the past you’ve made albums that individually represented different aspects of your musical personality – a jazzy album, a country-ish album, experimental music – but I feel that on this record you've seamlessly woven all these different sensibilities into an organic fabric that bears your unique musical signature.”

And that’s the nub of it. Yes, the Norah Jones "musical signature" and utterly recognisable sound and great voice and musicianship are there. And what’s not to like about the infallibly wonderful Brian Blade also being there on some tracks – his contribution to “Alone with My Thoughts” is magical. But whereas Norah Jones has clearly written songs in the past that stand the test of time (I've been going back to "Sunrise", a co-write with Lee Alexander), and her impromptu creations during lockdown and her superb podcast, all of which have raised expectations, this album has left me feeling undernourished.

Its clear message is that Norah Jones is in a better place now, and able to celebrate and savour the passing moment

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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