ALBUM: Day Breaks
ARTISTS: Norah Jones
Album release date: October 7, 2016
Norah Jones, daughter of famed late sitar player Ravi Shankar, released her sixth solo album this past fall. Day Breaks is a return to her jazz-roots, and is reminicent of Come Away With Me, the album that first catapulted her into stardom back in 2002. With three covers (most notably, a reworded take on Neil Young’s autobiographical tune Don’t Be Denied) and nine new songs written by Jones and her collaborators, Day Breaks has the sleepy, warm, groovy retro atmosphere that first caught the airwaves by storm over fifteen years ago.
According to Jones, the goal was to do everything live when recording the album (production began back in 2015). This isn’t actually that difficult to do when you have the cream of crop backing you up: Jones enlisted the iconic playing chops of saxophonist Wayne Shorter, drummer Brian Blade, and bassist John Patitucci to imbue the project, and imbue it they did. You can hear the musicians relaxing into their craft, allowing it to bleed, blend, and bloom. (This is an austere jazz album, so if you’re into freeflowing solos, broken, diminished chords, and woody bass-lines slapping along beneath the melody – perpetually – you’ll be well-pleased with the timber of this project, which is homogenous and traditional.)
Lyrically, the songs on the album tend to take a wistful stance: some coming from a broody and dark angle, and others sounding more like the backdrop to an Audrey Hepburn montage. Two stand out as being statements of their own, apart from the thematic gestalt of the whole: Flipside is a token political song, focusing on civil and racial rights (albeit via vaugue lyrics); and And Then There Was You is a present-tense love song that expresses surprise and gratitude at the continued presence and commitment of a generous lover.
Jones’ alluring voice is as rich and mellifluous as it ever was: its depth, coupled with her increasingly dexterous piano playing, helps to distract the listener from the invisibility of Norah herself, who remains as detached and purposeful towards her songwriting as Thomas Aquinas was toward conveying the Truth in the Summa: like Jones, the Angelic Doctor was much more concerned with accuracy and form than he was with sharing his heart. Jones is known for being aggressively private, never mentioning the name of her husband (let alone the city they live in) and eschewing social media platforms. She is unabashed in her refusal to become a “personality” at the behest of fans or press, and stolidly continues to create music that is lovely, warm, polished, and – if I dare say it – rosy-cheeked but anemic.
Day Breaks is a comfortable effort from Jones – she’s explored plenty of musical territory at this point in this career, though, and I admire her desire to maintain boundaries between that which is most important – i.e., her two small children and husband – and that which is passing: in a word, fame.