No Fools, No Fun
Norah Jones has always liked to hide – in those early shows after she became a superstar you could imagine her hoping the piano might swallow her whole, then she was allowed to go a bit country and then the first recognised side-project, The Little Willies. But she was still the leader there, the frontperson. So then she wore a wig, played bass in a punk band – she just kept hiding. And though she’s made some great music across her last couple of albums those easy-fodder freak-fans caught up all starry-eyed in her first album (or two) are starting to dwindle. Her new music is too clever, too progressive, not “jazz” enough for that easily suckered bunch of rom-com watching, chocolate-box grabbing easily-sold. In fact her new music is simply nicely structured mature pop songwriting.
I interviewed Norah Jones once. I got the feeling she resented fame – and a few of her fans. I liked her as soon as her music got interesting because she’s always had a great voice but was, for the first half of her career, a singer in search of the right song – and more often than that in need of less polish and more risk-taking; in need of the right style, the right arrangements.
Puss N Boots is yet another chance for Jones to hide/another side-project. This band formed some eight years ago and has just decided to release a lovely but ramshackle debut full-lengther. Here you’ll here covers and originals, studio cuts and live versions – and the three-piece is Jones with Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper. It’s not a Norah Jones ProjectTM – it is a “supergroup” if you must, Dobson has a solo career in her own right, as well as playing support (opening act and band-member) during recent Jones tours and Popper has been the bassist for Ryan Adams and The Cardinals and Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. She’s also worked with Joseph Arthur, Willie Nelson, Jack White and Rachael Yamagata. Popper and Dobson share in the singing and writing for Puss N Boots and though it’s Jones’ Don’t Know What It Means that is the early standout among the originals on No Fools, No Fun this is clearly a fun project for them all, and it houses vital performances, even if they’re served up in a tossed-off/so-what kinda way.
A lovely if unnecessary cover of Wilco’s Jesus, Etc doesn’t even try to reinvent the song; these voices sound lovely singing it and you get the feeling it was chosen by iPod consensus – a favourite of them all. That’s how all the covers feel, a faithful live rendition of Neil Young’s Down By The River sees Puss N Boots simply riding that same series of nearly-cowboy licks, saddled up and coasting on the groove – pulling at the reigns now and then to squeeze in a verse of the lyrics. That’s as it should be.
No Fools, No Fun is great. And you can tell it was great fun for the three singer/songwriters. Another chance for Jones to hide, another chance for her to show her true colours to the fans that actually care.