New York City
While the world waits to see what Norah Jones will do next, we can spend a half-hour discovering some of what she got up to before life as an international superstar and Vanity Fair cover girl. According to singer-songwriter-guitarist Peter Malick, a veteran blues journeyman who has worked with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton, at some point during the summer of 2000 he and Jones met in lower Manhattan and became fast friends. The pair toured New England then teamed up with Malick's bandmates in a Boston recording studio to lay down the seven tracks that comprise New York City (Koch). What do the efforts of the pre-Come Away Jones reveal? A slightly less polished, decidedly more countrified version of the voice that has since sold a billion or so copies of Come Away With Me. The Malick-penned title track provides an eerily pre-9/11 paean to New York's challenging appeal, with a yearning Jones singing plaintively of the city's "beautiful disease." Malick's oddly otherworldly "Strange Transmissions" follows, as does his "Deceptively Yours," an electrified salute to sleazy philandering (and the murderous reactions it can incite). Jones then ignites her inner Janis Joplin for gutsy covers of Magic Sam's "All Your Love" and Dylan's "Heart of Mine," and teams with a distinctly Dylanesque Malick on his kickass "Things You Don't Have to Do." Given the brevity of the disc (it clocks in at 30:21, including a "bonus" radio edit of "New York City"), it's hard not to dismiss this as a cash grab, released expressly to profit from Jones' subsequent fame. Given the superiority of the material, it's impossible to remain so cynical.