Come Away With Me
Blue Note Records
By the time you read this, 22-year-old vocalist Norah Jones will be caught in the eye of a full-fledged media hurricane. You will have read, numerous times, that she is the Next Big Thing. You'll have heard, again and again, that she is the daughter of sitarist and '60s pop-culture icon Ravi Shankar. Much will be made of her ethereal beauty. And there will be endless discussion about her place in the music pantheon, with critics scrambling to place her on one side or the other of the ever-shifting line that separates pop from jazz.
None of which matters a whit.
Strip away all the hype and hoopla and you're left with a dazzlingly fresh singer-songwriter whose impressive debut album hints at tremendous long-term potential.
Imbued with a vaguely retro feel that belies Jones' youth, Come Away With Me stylishly demonstrates how her influences extend from Texan grit and Nashville twang to Motown soul and New York sophistication. Though Jones lists Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan among her musical heroes, her soft, sandy voice is more evocative of the playfulness of Rickie Lee Jones and the sultry otherworldliness of Maria Muldaur, blended with the heartbreaking pathos of Janis Ian. Working with producer Arif Mardin, the genius who brought out the best in such disparate divas as Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan, Jones mixes an eclectic assortment of covers with an impressive sprinkling of originals. Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" is simultaneously enriched with fragility and frigidity, while "The Nearness of You" unfolds with a delicate sensuality that Hoagy Carmichael himself would surely applaud. Jones' self-penned title track rivals such classic explorations of dreamy escapism as "Somewhere" and "These Foolish Things," and "The Long Day Is Over," co-written with guitarist Jesse Harris, pays gentle, loving tribute to twilight romance.
Suffice to say that as breakthrough albums go, Come Away With Me ranks among the most bracing and beautiful in recent memory.