‘Til We Meet Again (Live)
I may not have always believed in Norah Jones – but I always wanted to. The first couple of albums felt too polite and the performances that accompanied them were very deer-in-the-headlights – then the record company poured water on everything to rinse and repeat. I was almost out the door when she switched to electric piano and made a record that featured Bill Withers’ drummer. I was listening again! I spoke to her around that time – she was very clear that it was her idea, the record company hated it, she’d told them she’d made enough money for them; now I really liked her.
And the good music kept coming. Okay, not every single thing – but the strike rate was on the up again.
And then I went and saw her gig again. And it was the show I had always hoped for – lip-service to the hits and lots of new things on top. Lots of musicality. No longer the smiling politely record-company prop. Maybe that was never her – but we all have to play parts for a time.
Anyway, now Norah has released her first ever official live album. It’s not a single concert, rather taken from shows around the globe between 2017 and 2019 – and though it doesn’t feature any of the performances from the last time I saw her play that show was in the same time-zone; many of the highlights from that performance are highlights here as you’d expect – staples from across the tour. Cold, Cold Heart, one of just a small handful of covers, and a song that goes all the way back to her debut (now nearly 20 years old). I love the way Jones can play the hits and they never feel like a millstone, usually still celebrated like a milestone but certainly never a hindrance. She subtly reworks them too, careful to leave them recognisable as the version you fell in love with, different enough to move with the times.
She plays the piano a lot in the shows now and on the albums – and she’s good. And that is both fairly obvious and was always the case but also is now more obvious than it ever was.
The newer material – a lot from the brilliant Begin Again mini-album that saw a bunch of singles later collected up onto a disc of their own – is the real news here. It Was You, the sultry glide of the keys swirling atop a sublime bit of drumming from the master Brian Blade. Speaking of which, he really lays down a slinky groove to guide the song Begin Again into place. What a band this is – for the most part the group is Norah and Brian with Jesse Murphy and Christopher Thomas as the bassists, Peter Remm on the organ and there’s some spots that feature guitarist Jesse Harris, percussionist Marcelo Costa and/or Jorge Continentino on the flute. So whether the basic trio, or augmented, this is just a killer lineup.
And when those earlier songs come they bring huge audience applause and interaction – they are the favourites; the hits. Sunrise, back from album number two, well it’s about as gorgeous and simple and sweet and basically perfect as a country-lilt of a pop song could be. Utterly charming. But there’s just a little bit of earned grit in Jones’ voice now so it couldn’t possibly be twee.
She can even take us back to the cafés and lounge-bars (or doctor’s waiting rooms for that matter) with Don’t Know Why. It feels like a goddamn fucking standard now. Remarkable piece of writing and playing. Again, some 20 years old and it just feels like it was built to be here forever.
Jones is a class act. And there’s plenty of proof of that here. And the closer, a tribute to Chris Cornell, is a cover of his Soundgarden staple, Black Hole Sun. She’s solo at the piano to lead the tune in, the melody builds, cascades, is rebuilt. Just Jones and the piano and she holds us all across seven minutes. Lovely. What a voice. What a musician. What talent. What taste.