EMI's Blue Note Records release ...Featuring, a star-studded collection of the multi-platinum selling, multi-Grammy Award winning singer Norah Jones's musical collaborations from the past decade. The 18 songs on the album include duets with such legends as Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton, and with 21st Century icons from OutKast to the Foo Fighters.
The tracks on ...Featuring span her entire career, from one of her earliest recording sessions (a version of Roxy Music's "More Than This" with guitarist Charlie Hunter in 2001) to her most recent performance, a song called "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John" that she cut with Belle and Sebastian, which will also appear on their new album. The result serves as a kind of parallel history to her own four albums, which have sold over 40 million copies worldwide.
These collaborations reveal Jones's astonishing musical versatility, from jazz to country, hip-hop to rock. Three of the songs on ...Featuring originally appeared on records that won Grammy awards for Album of the Year (Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company, Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, and OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), and several others were also nominated for Grammys.
The album also includes recordings by some of Jones's own bands and side projects (The Little Willies and El Madmo), and performances with artists that she's toured with including M. Ward, Sasha Dobson, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Songs on ...Featuring range from classics recorded by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, and Roy Orbison to new material by such wide-ranging innovators as Ryan Adams and Q-Tip.
A raft of dinner party albums from Norah Jones has been irreversibly with us throughout the last decade and, as much as her vocal prowess has impressed, the inevitable impression is of lightness, insubstantiality. To observers who don't have dinner parties, she is borderline tawdry, saccharine and marooned between jazz acceptance and the infested waters of easy listening. What may have escaped said observers, though, is that on occasion she has been a part of some genuinely interesting collaborations, which is where this surprisingly varied collection of duets comes in. But be warned – the quality is as variable as the cast.
At its worst, the collection feels predictable. Virginia Moon, a duet with Foo Fighters, can’t go down as Jones’ fault, fortunately – blame lies squarely with Dave Grohl, who leaves nothing for Jones to do, a mere backing vocalist on an under-written and sickly ballad. You can almost hear Grohl’s eyebrows arching in a tasteful wince. Similarly, Willie Nelson and Jones’ take on Baby It’s Cold Outside is deeply unattractive, and no amount of plinking piano can save it from being a complete turn-off.
Peppered across the record are uninspiring jazzy ballads, what you might call ‘stock’ for Jones. However, as we’ve established, there are some super surprises for those who might not have gotten past Come Away with Me. Take Off Your Cool is a blissfully meandering acoustic work that brilliantly pits Jones against Andre 3000 of OutKast, a luxurious song that sounds haunting when removed from the context of the latter’s The Love Below record.
Furthermore, the superb pairing of Jones with Belle and Sebastian yields the strongest result on the whole record. Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John is a proper, adult pop song that shows Jones having a ball with lines like "can I see what’s underneath your bed", and "can I stay until the milkman’s working". The virtue has to lie mostly with the Scottish legends, but Jones brings such depth to the recording that it seems impossible to imagine it without her.
It’s fair to say that for every misstep there’s an unexpectedly winning duet, but not enough of Jones’ maturity is brought to the fore. There’s too much inoffensive filler that doesn’t do her justice, and it’s indisputable that it would’ve been a stronger release had it been pruned of several songs.
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window