Norah Jones adds diverse instrumentation in her fourth album to make it a delicately beautiful purchase for the holidays.
Although Jones doesn’t make any especially dramatic changes to her soft jazz music in her newest album, “The Fall,” the electric guitar buzzes and upbeat drums contribute a passionate energy, which wasn’t heard in her previous albums.
Take the fourth track, “Young Blood,” for example. In the middle of the song, the drumbeat picks up. Soon, the band turns into a country rock-style ensemble, as Jones sings “You were strongest when I ached for breath/Through the thick of smoke we’ll finally smother/Young blood.”
The romantic longing in this album carries a much darker tone than her previous outings, especially in “Back to Manhattan.”
Jones is clearly saddened by her breakup with bass player Lee Alexander when she sings “I’ll go back to Manhattan/As if nothing ever happened/When I cross that bridge/It’ll be as if this don’t exist.” She’s had some dark times, but this is the first time she’s ever sounded this depressed.
Regardless of the emotional gloominess in “The Fall,” the melodies sound richer than previous releases. Short songs such as “Waiting” are littered with delicate piano embellishments in the higher octaves.
The opening song, “Chasing Pirates,” features Jones playing a synthesizer organ sound. There’s even a moody cello crescendo in the intro to “Light as a Feather.”
Best of all, Jones never sounds like she is overindulging in pop sounds and vocals, like Regina Spektor. She knows how to keep pop songs down to earth with some dreamy sound effects.
Jones holds down the heavy drumbeats of “It’s Gonna Be” with a blues rhythm on the synthesizer. The lyrics in the song are unorthodox for Jones – with politics embedded as a theme in the song.
She wades through the cool bass of the song with the biting words, “Aim at the ones who’ve really hurt us/They should be arrested for murders/But then all the camera’s were turned on/Some skinny naked blonde eating burgers.”
Some of Jones’ lyrics still sound like typical, wishy-washy love songs. Her tired words of lost love have become redundant after three albums. Songs such as “I Wouldn’t Need You,” repeat nearly the same sad-sack lyrics she sang in “Come Away With Me.” After a certain point, people would certainly get tired of hearing the dull words, “If you could hear my voice crack/Over the phone/Then you’d know I need you/To love me.”
However, some of her lyrics are clever odes that question her own place in the world as a woman. Even the great country singer, Neko Case, cannot beat Jones when she romps playfully through the self-conscious words and melodies of “Man of the Hour.” Jones holds down the strings of the piano, giving it cute, tinny sound as she sings, “Do I deserve/To be the one/Who will feed you breakfast, lunch, and dinner/And take you to the park at dawn?”
Jones handles all the acoustics of this CD with the smooth antics of a fox. This is probably her best album yet. Maybe she has some more tricks up her sleeve than we’ve taken for granted.