With The Fall, Norah Jones completes the transition away from her smooth cabaret beginnings and toward a mellowly arty, modern singer/songwriter. Jones began this shift on 2007's Not Too Late, an album that gently rejected her tendencies for lulling, tasteful crooning, but The Fall is a stronger, more cohesive work, maintaining an elegantly dreamy state that's faithful to the crooner of Come Away with Me while feeling decidedly less classicist. Some of this could be attributed to Jones' choice of producer, Jacquire King, best-known for his work with Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon, but King hardly pushes Norah in a rock direction; The Fall does bear some mild echoes of Fiona Apple or Aimee Mann in ballad mode, but its arrangements never call attention to themselves, the way that some Jon Brion productions do.
Unexpected dance grooves from jazzy folk star As a jazz-adoring youngster, Norah Jones initially made her mark as a performer, her best-known songs written by others. Jones has since grown up as a songwriter on the biggest of stages, a challenge she’s tackled by turning inward, working with a set of regular bandmates and daring to whisper her increasingly pointed lines when others might over-emote. On The Fall, Jones is clearly comfortable with where she’s arrived, and is ready to throw open the doors for a party—one that boasts guests such as Ryan Adams, Okkervil River’s Will Sheff and session aces Marc Ribot and Joey Waronker.
”The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain famously quipped. So too are reports of Norah Jones’ rock conversion. True, the Grammy-festooned pop-jazz chanteuse has largely forsaken her traditional post at the piano for a six-string on her fourth album (out Nov. 17), and she’s roped in a passel of collaborators (including Ryan Adams and frequent Beck sideman Smokey Hormel) not necessarily known for catering to the quiet-storm set.
It's almost three years since Norah Jones released her third album, Not Too Late; in that time she has parted company with Lee Alexander, her boyfriend of several years, and turned 30. These are seismic events in any woman's life, and typically they have sent Jones into a frenzy of re-evaluation. The Fall finds her exploring alternative-rock territory, nimbly guided by producer Jacquire King (whose discography features Tom Waits and Modest Mouse).
The transformation is complete. Norah Jones, the golden girl of Blue Note records and queen of the adult pop-jazz crossover field, after selling millions of records and being hailed as the torchbearer bringing vocal jazz back into the mainstream, has re-emerged as a singer-songwriter with an album full of guitar-driven pop-soul. Nowhere on The Fall will you hear anything like “Don’t Know Why”, “Come Away with Me”, or “What Am I to You”? Gone is the warm blanket of delicate drums and piano, replaced with snares that actually hit and lightly-buzzing electronic keyboards.
Breakups have long brought out the best in singer-songwriters. With longtime collaborator Lee Alexander no longer in the picture, Norah Jones relies on a host of co-writers, including Ryan Adams and especially producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Modest Mouse) to change direction, and the result is her most sonically challenging to date. Jones' ever-sultry voice never rises to a scream, but King brings gauzy soundscapes and altered instruments to add an edge to the disc that allows for repeat listening.