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Come Away With Me began 2002 as a quiet little secret, passed among friends as a hot pick among the coffeehouse jazz set. A year later, 22-year-old Norah Jones was a household name and this modest debut won her five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

In any year Come Away With Me would be a remarkable album if only because of Jones’ extraordinary voice: It is smoky like Diana Krall’s, but there’s enough warmth to remind you of the vivacious Rickie Lee Jones. Brilliantly produced by Arif Mardin, the spare arrangements serve to frame Jones’ breathy vocals and never overpower her atmospheric piano playing. The title track and “Don’t Know Why” are the standouts because Jones’ laconic phrasing serves to further emphasize the melancholy of these two songs. The rest of the album seems more slight, but when Jones covers Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart” and J. D. Loudermilk’s “Turn Me On,” she proves herself more talented than even the above average piano chanteuse. As debut albums go, few are as promising — and as steadfastly ethereal — as Come Away With Me.

Feels Like Home, Jones’ second album, is another triumph of the low-key, but it’s a bit more varied. There are moments of lithe, coolheaded boho blues (“In the Morning,” featuring a coy Jones solo on Wur-litzer electric piano) and downcast salvation-seeking waltzes (the transfixing “Humble Me”). There’s a credible excursion into country two-step (the duet with Dolly Parton, “Creepin’ In”) and a haunted Brechtian tone poem called “Carnival Town.” Jones talks about her whirlwind success just a little, with her usual understatement: On the idyllic “Toes,” she sings of an idealized, unharried life not in the strident complaining voice of a newly minted star but like any other overwhelmed soul yearning for a moment’s peace. Feels Like Home extends the Come Away With Me template — not by echoing the earlier songs, but by chasing the same ruminative moods and hushed-whisper atmospheres. (CHARLES R. CROSS/TOM MOON)

From 2004’s The New Rolling Stone Album Guide


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