The New Norah Jones Album “Little Broken Hearts” Sings.

For the usu­al five min­utes there in the autumn of 2001, all the talk was about an intox­i­cat­ing songstress who man­aged to deliv­er grown-up pop, infused with Nashville and gen­tly draped in the soft vel­vet of can­dle-lit lounge.

But then Norah Jones went and did some­thing unfor­giv­able. She released a debut album the fol­low­ing Feb­ru­ary that went on to sell over 20 mil­lion copies. This she com­pound­ed by tak­ing her overnight fame with a casu­al shrug of the shoul­ders. And if all that weren’t bad enough, she had to look like that.

None of which is ter­ri­bly fair. It’s hard­ly her fault is hers is the sound that ends up lin­ing the walls of every bou­tique, lift and shop­ping mall in the west­ern world. 

Nonethe­less, there was a sense that when she teamed up with Dan­ger Mouse (aka Bri­an Bur­ton) last year, she was qui­et­ly try­ing to ever so slight­ly dis­tance her­self from the Norah Jones of old.

She’d been called in by Bur­ton to pro­vide vocals for three of the tracks on his Leone/Morricone inspired Rome (reviewed ear­li­er here). And unsur­pris­ing­ly, giv­en how well that turned out, the pair have teamed up offi­cial­ly now to joint­ly pro­duce her new album, Lit­tle Bro­ken Hearts.

The oth­er ingre­di­ent in the mix, as the title sug­gests, is a gal called Miri­am, and it’s she and what she gone done that has end­ed up giv­ing Jones some­thing to get her teeth stuck into.

Well it ain’t easy to stay in love, if you can’t tell a lie, So I’ll just have to take a bow, and say good-bye, she sings on the sec­ond track “Say Good­bye”. And as the album pro­gress­es, her bit­ter­ness gen­tly ris­es to the sur­face until even­tu­al­ly, Miri­am is unmasked.

As Sasha Frere-Jones notes in his review of it in the New York­er here, she man­ages to deft­ly walk the line between tak­ing her music to the next step, but doing so with­out alien­at­ing her loy­al, not to say vast fan base. In this regard, Bur­ton in the ide­al, indeed the only choice to act as her foil.

As ever then, plush, lush, rich vel­vet, but with an edge.

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Blunderbuss” by Jack White, verily a Prince Amongst Men.

Jack WhiteJack White is Bob Dylan’s much younger and much more indus­tri­ous baby broth­er. Incred­i­bly, he very near­ly has the great man’s depth of vision and musi­cal scope, but unbur­dened by the weight of mes­sian­ic adu­la­tion, nice and qui­et­ly he’s liv­ing the musi­cal dream.

Glob­al­ly speak­ing, the White Stripes were lit­tle more than A N Oth­er gui­tar band mak­ing a rea­son­ably good liv­ing doing their thing. With­in the world of music though, they were a phe­nom­e­non. A blind­ing­ly bright light­en­ing bolt that lit up the night skies in a flash of uncom­pro­mis­ing, sear­ing brilliance.

White took that suc­cess and ran with it. He formed a cou­ple of satel­lite bands, The Racon­teurs and The Dead Weath­er, launched his record label Third Man Records, and in 2009 bought a build­ing in Nashville which he trans­formed into a record­ing hub. 

There he’s pro­duced LPs and sin­gles (on vinyl of course) for the likes of Loret­ta Lynn, Wan­da Jack­son, First Aid Kit (reviewed here), Jer­ry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones and Alaba­ma Shakes (reviewed here) as well as duet­ing with Norah Jones for three of the tracks on Dan­ger Mouse’s Rome (reviewed here).

But last year The White Stripes offi­cial­ly called it a day. And then a few months lat­er, White and his wife Karen Olson split up, mark­ing the occa­sion, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, with a divorce par­ty. So this is his first out­ing as a sin­gle man. And there were real­ly only ever two pos­si­ble outcomes. 

Either the Stripes depend­ed for their mag­ic on some intan­gi­ble alchem­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of both Meg and Jack. Or, the most potent force in rock will always be Jack White with who­ev­er it is that he’s hap­pens to have paired him­self up with that par­tic­u­lar morn­ing. Blun­der­buss puts that dilem­ma to bed once and for all.

It’s intrigu­ing, not to say gen­er­ous, of White to insist that it was Meg who wore the trousers in the band, as he does in Josh Eells’ superb inter­view in the NY Times here – sit­ed in Pitch­fork’s gen­er­ous review here, not with­stand­ing their skimpy 7.8.

But it’s blind­ing­ly obvi­ous that it was he who was the band’s engine, its fuel, trans­mis­sion and uphol­ster­er. And Blun­der­buss is an impres­sive amal­ga­ma­tion of all of the musi­cal avenues he’s been explor­ing in all of the many musi­cal projects he’s been involved with to date.

Accord­ing to the inter­view he gave to All Songs Con­sid­ered here, he kept two sep­a­rate back­ing bands on hold, an all-male one and an all-female one. And one of the many plea­sures that the album affords is try­ing to spot which one is which.

I’d have a small wager that the funky groves of I’m Shakin’ bespeak a female troupe, and not just because of the lush, Spec­tor-esque female back­ing vocals, includ­ing, again char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly (of them both) his now ex-wife Olsen. 

Whilst it’s impos­si­ble not to con­clude that the pri­mal propul­sion of the majes­tic sin­gle Six­teen Saltines is the work of undi­lut­ed machis­mo – and quite cor­rect­ly, White posi­tioned this as his track 2. The album would have been quite over­whelmed by it had he begun with it.

This is a prop­er piece of work from a very seri­ous musi­cian indeed. Quite sim­ply, the man’s royalty.

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