Last year's release Featuring Norah Jones
confirmed that she is a most versatile performer, very much at ease with a variety of musical styles and in particular with country music. She performed duets with Dolly Parton, Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch and Willie Nelson after whom, it is said, The Little Willies are named.
She had already shown that she was an accomplished country artist with the Little Willies debut album in 2006, her collaboration with four other New York based musicians. Now, six years later, they are back with another collection of eleven country covers and an original instrumental by guitarist Jim Campilongo.
While not as immediately appealing as the debut album there are solid performances of some fine songs. In particular, Norah's bluesy and heartfelt reading of Scotty Wiseman's beautiful ballad, "Remember Me" with its spare piano accompaniment, is worthy of special mention.
She doesn't disappoint either with Kris Kristofferson's evocative "For The Good Times" as she squeezes every ounce of emotion from the lyrics. Meanwhile Richard Julian contributes lump in the throat vocals to a fine reading of the Willie Nelson penned "Permanently Lonely" and a spirited performance of the Johnny Cash number "Wide Open Road".
The Hank Williams signature song, "Lovesick Blues" is performed impeccably with Jones and Julian combining beautifully against a sparse acoustic background. The album finishes with Norah singing a slow but inspired version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" with Campilongo's gentle guitar ushering in the end of the piece. Simply gorgeous.
I'm not sure about the Willies version of Ralph Stanley's "I Worship You" or the Campilongo instrumental "Tommy Rockwood". I think, too, that Norah's smoky, blues infused voice is better suited to emotive country ballads rather than the rollicking sounds of Loretta Lynn's "Fist City" or Lefty Frizzel's "If You've Got The Money" but that is a minor quibble. What is undeniable is the artistry and enthusiasm of the group and the obvious enjoyment that the members derive from playing and singing together.