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Norah Jones 

Feels Like Home

Wednesday, Mar 3 2004
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You can imagine the collective outcry of jazz snobs when they hear Feels Like Home: "Well, Norah Jones sold out -- we knew she wasn't really one of us." Most of what's left of the jazz component on Jones' latest lies primarily in her phrasing -- she slyly, sensuously enunciates and draws out words the way a saxophonist or a trombonist might stretch a fragment of melody -- and in the spare, spacious approach of her band, which accompanies her with the limber late-night minimalism of a sympathetic piano trio perfectly attuned to a romance-weary torch singer. But for the most part, Home's songs evoke traditional country and late-'60s Southern soul/R&B, and Jones and company don't settle for mimicry, preferring instead to extend those styles by dovetailing them with aspects of the jazz tradition. In Jones' universe, Tammy Wynette has the same prominence as Aretha Franklin and Duke Ellington (whose "Melancholia" Jones reworked into Home's forlorn voice-and-piano closer, "Don't Miss You at All").

The dreamy "Carnival Town" finds Jones sounding as coolly implacable and worldly wise as Peggy Lee wondering if that is indeed "all there is," her wispy voice rising into the air like summer rain evaporating from hot asphalt. "What Am I to You" and "The Prettiest Thing" are simmering, sultry Memphis soul worthy of Aretha and "Son of a Preacher Man"-era Dusty Springfield, and "The Long Way Home" is driven by a muted take on that two-beat, boom-chicka-boom rhythm of Johnny Cash. Though Home is generally a Norah & band effort with a minimum of guest stars, there's a dandy duet with Dolly Parton on the acoustic, Appalachian-sounding "Creepin' In," in which they engage in rousing, gospel-style trade-offs. Whilst hard-core jazzophiles will recoil in dismay at this updating of Jones' signature style, the more Americana-eclectic among them will likely find this a delight.

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Mark Keresman

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