If you loved Norah Jones’ debut album and hated her last release, with the laid back grooves and beats courtesy of Dangermouse, you are in for a real treat with her latest offering, Day Breaks. Norah has fallen back in love with her piano and it permeates every note and melodic phrase of the new album. Added to this is the jazz influenced arrangements and sublime musicianship of her band. The production is faultless and the close miking of the instruments and Norah’s voice gives the impression you are sitting a few feet away from the musicians. The buzz from the strings of the upright bass on the opening track “Burn“ and the cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” gives me chills.
There is a beautiful balance of instrument solos to compliment the vocals and they feel not overly rehearsed, like when musicians are improvising live at a club; there is a palpable energy of unbridled excitement coming through the speakers. The technique as well, is bewildering. Norah’s voice adapts to the new jazzier surroundings with ease and there are times she sounds as if Billie Holiday or Eartha Kitt or even Shirley Bassey has possessed her.
There is some contrast over the twelve songs and the tempo is increased a few notches on tracks like “Flipside”, a politely political rhythmic juggernaut; title track “Day Breaks”; and the joyous swinging “It’s a Wonderful Time for Love”. On the whole though, the album is a mellow, late night amble into the wee small hours. This may have been influenced in the writing stage as Norah explains that she would play her piano and compose the songs in the relaxed setting of their kitchen at home during the evening, rather than in the studio. You can practically feel the warm homely vibe she has created and almost smell bread baking in the oven.
Day Breaks should appeal to all Norah Jones’ fans, as it covers a multitude of styles from “Carry On” and “Once I Had A Laugh”, which could have easily appeared on her debut, to “Day Breaks” which has a more edgy sound reminiscent of “Little Broken Hearts”.
Added to this are songs drenched in pure jazz: “Burn”, “Peace”, “Sleeping Wild” and “Fleurette Africaine”, which highlight the skill of the players in beautifully considered solos. I rated Norah’s last album Little Broken Hearts highly and am an admirer of both Norah and the producer Dangermouse (his work with James Mercer on the Broken Bells’ albums is astounding). I understand why many considered this too far a departure (from dinner party to David Lynch soundtrack, as some have said), but I rate her songwriting above her other work on that album.
Day Breaks is certainly a more conventional step back into a more familiar middle-of-the-road territory for Norah Jones, and the dinner party crowd I’m sure will spend many an evening talking over these beautiful songs. For me I wanted Norah to move onward and upward and break down more musical barriers and prejudices, with a more daring release than Day Breaks. It feels like a side step, a safe bet, but lacking the power and emotion of songs like “She’s 22”, “4 Broken Hearts”, “Travelin’ On” or “All A Dream”.
Still, Day Breaks is a beautiful album and Norah is following her love of music wherever that happens to take her. I am more than happy to join her on that journey, and am only being hyper-critical because I know the massive talent she possesses, and I know she can do anything and go anywhere.
You can buy Day Breaks from all good record shops today and catch a fleeting glimpse of her when she visits the UK for one night in November. Hopefully there will be a full tour next year. Please?
While Day Breaks sees Norah Jones return to familiar territory, it is still a beautiful album which, at times, is sure to give you chills.