Release Date: Jan 10, 2012
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Country, Americana, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Country-Rock, Country-Rock
Turns out Norah Jones packs a sweet and true country twang. On the Little Willies' second album, Jones and four buddies remake down-home classics like Willie Nelson's "Permanently Lonely" and Kris Kristofferson's title track with offhand assurance, like a skilled (but not slick) pickup bar band. The lone original, "Tommy Rockwood," segues into Jones' note-perfect roar through "Fist City" – a Loretta Lynn dust-up that's never sounded so giddy.
Voices tangled, The Little Willies’ Norah Jones and Richard Julian lean into a demi-lurching chorus of Ralph Stanley’s “I Worship You” to open For The Good Times, the follow-up to their 2006 self-titled debut. Just when the drunken kitsch seems to swell up, the fingers fly, Jones offers a plucky lament about her worship not being enough—and it’s obvious that these friends who got together in 2003 to celebrate classic Wurlitzer country have lost none of their reverence for tear-in-your-beer songs. And the Willies—bassist Lee Alexander, guitarist Jim Campilongo, pianist/vocalist Jones, guitarist/vocalist Richard Julian and drummer Dan Rieser—have a real affinity for the songs about life’s wild side and its consequences.
The Little Willies took six years to deliver a second album, but For the Good Times sounds like it could have been cut the same afternoon as their 2006 debut. This is by no means a bad thing. The primary pleasure of the Little Willies, the uptown country cabaret covers band fronted by Norah Jones, is their ease, how they can take tunes everybody knows by heart and not so much reinterpret them as freshen them, pulling them ever so slightly toward the jazzier side.
Norah Jones’ country leanings are not as well known as her other tunes, but if you asked her, she’d say, “I love playing country music. More than any other genre, it makes me feel at home.” And that’s exactly the feeling you get from The Little Willies and their latest album For the Good Times. Formed in 2003 to play a single gig of country covers at the famed Living Room on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, The Little Willies would not stop making music.
However charming the Little Willies’ self-titled debut may have been, neither its low-key tone nor the six years that have passed since its release gave any real reason to view the group as something more than a one-off lark for Norah Jones and a few of her like-minded friends. But along comes For the Good Times, and it turns out to be an unexpected, entirely welcome return from an act that now sounds an awful lot like a real band. While the album sticks to the general formula of its predecessor (covers of classic country tunes with a focus on thoughtful, creative arrangements), the consistently on-point execution of that formula makes For the Good Times an endlessly likable record.
Languid soul star Norah Jones is easily the most famous fifth of the Little Willies – a low-key, but high-quality country covers band now on their second album. Those more accustomed to Jones's dulcet mode should hear her exhale through the Willies' atmospheric version of "Jolene" – this enjoyable album's closer – or vamping it up behind guitarist Richard Julian on a succinct rollick through trucker classic "Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves". Stellar side projects often run the risk of sounding smug, but over these 12 varied selections, the Little Willies put the American songbook first.
NYC country folk collective The Little Willies have seen six years between the release of their debut and their latest album, For the Good Times. Still nursing a knack for twangy Americana, the group sounds more refreshed, energetic, and jazzier. With Norah Jones on keys, occasionally trading vocals with Richard Julian, the group’s breezy, swing-heavy sound is equal parts honky tonk and hopping jazz club.
A fine second album of country covers from the Norah Jones-fronted collective. Mike Diver 2012 Two albums in eight years might not sound like a particularly great level of productivity – but The Little Willies are no ordinary band. A collective ostensibly fronted by Norah Jones, albeit with ample vocal support from Arden-born folk singer Richard Julian, this outfit came together in 2003 to jam out some much-loved country cuts at New York’s Living Room venue.
What began as a one-off excuse for Norah Jones and four of her friends to play some country music at a dive on New York City's Lower East Side now has a second act. For the Good Times follows the same template forged with a self-titled effort from 2006: heavy with tunes from country legends, like the Kris Kristofferson penned title track, Dolly Parton's "Jolene," and "Lovesick Blues," made famous by Hank Williams. When Jones acts as the primary vocalist on the appropriately feisty "Fist City" and the title track, the songs possess the same ebullience as her finely tuned solo work.