Review Summary: Norah's first album of entirely self-composed songs, Not Too Late is an album of subtle, beautiful songs, but with little variety.
Everybody has their fetishes, but I think mine is a bit different from the rest of the world. I tend to subconsciously be attracted to brunette piano players. I’m not sure why, but every girl I’ve ever been interested in was a brunette piano player. One day, I was flipping through a book of the best selling albums of all time. It went by decade, and the list had been pretty predictable, with The Beatles dominating the 60s, and Thriller topping the 80s charts. But when I got to the 00s, I was very surprised to find Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me as the best selling album of the 21st century. This is quite an accomplishment, especially with the album being her debut and taken as a jazz album, a genre very unpopular with today’s society. I knew little about Norah, and maybe it was her brown hair and piano talents that drew me to her, but after seeing her claim that top spot, I had to check her out.
Now it’s 2007 and Norah has rose to prominence as the Ella Fitzgerald of the 21st century, a keystone in the modern popular jazz scene. But is she really a jazz artist? Not Too Late is her third album, and it shows her elegance in a long black and white dress, contrasting the warm red room around her. It is vibrant and a sort of clash, but it makes Norah look all the better. This well represents how Norah has masterfully crossed country and western music with her jazz background. Where Come Away With Me was more jazz oriented and Feels Like Home had a much more prominent western tinge, Not Too Late finds the happy equilibrium between the two. What is remarkable is the way that Norah mixes the two genres by taking a more minimalist approach, rather than trying to combine every element of both genres into each song. Not Too Late may be her most subtle album yet, laced with simple melodies and hardly any accompaniment. It showcases her always spot-on voice.
However, Not Too Late is actually a showcase of Norah’s songwriting more than anything. This is the first album where she wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album, and her true tastes and ideas come out for the first time. Don’t Know Why
was not a Norah original, and she really isn’t a jazz artist. Her heart lies much more in western music, although she does have a slight jazz influence thrown into the inflections in her voice and some of her piano lines. Her instrumentation, very guitar-oriented with a lot of slide and upright bass, sets the subtle country feel and lets it dominate all the other influences. Wish I Could
lets the listener know Norah’s true intentions immediately, with guitar arpeggios. No piano. The guitar leads the song along with Norah singing easy and laid back vocals, yet her vocal quality glistens through the recording. Cello and vocal harmonies give the song a sense of growth, but for the most part, the song is one of the more laid-back, a prominent style on the album.
While doing research for the album, Sinkin’ Soon excited me. M. Ward, one of my favorite artists of the time, had a hand in the song. His contribution is minimal, just a few backing vocals here and there, but Sinkin’ Soon[
is certainly the strangest and quirkiest song on the album. If Regina Spektor did the Corpse Bride soundtrack, the result would probably be similar to this. Featuring horns, a playful groove, and guitar on the upbeats, the song brews in its quiet, subtle groove. Once the song gets going, with its bluesy tagline, strange plunger brass stands out even above Norah’s voice. Sinkin’ Soon
is easily a standout, just because of its originality and life compared to the rest of the album. Much of Not Too Late is the slow, subtle country ballads. While all of them are well done, the album becomes one long ballad. Only a few stand out, due to some extremely effective vocal melodies from Norah or a featured instrument such as the Wurlitzer or the Hammond B-3 Organ. Thinking About You
is one of those, and the album’s first single. Norah continuously tried to incorporate this song into her albums, a song she wrote while in her Wax Poetic days. According to her, her earlier versions were too country-rock even for her. The result is a western jazz hybrid in the truest sense, with very country-styled melodies from the organ and Wurlitzer, but the jazzy horn section provides great countermelodies.
The only other true sense of variety comes in My Dear Country
. It still falls in the same tempo range as the rest of the album, but it takes a piano-waltz spin on everything. For the most part, besides a short instrumental section, the song is just Norah and her piano, where she sounds most comfortable. Her lyrics take a political stab, with an uneasy and indecisive take on the process of Election Day. She masterfully spins her lyrics, no matter how unsure her opinion. The waltz gives a nice break in the middle of the album, as the rest gears in for more slow brooders. That being said, all of them have slight subtleties that make them good songs. Rosie’s Lullaby
, Not Too Late
, and The Sun Doesn’t Like You
are all examples of Norah writing excellent songs. However, the rest are just there and all sound like each other. That is the album’s major flaw. Taking on an album of entirely her own songs proved a challenge for her, and with time, she may reach her full potential. She has a fantastic voice and her songwriting talent shines in a few songs off this album. Norah Jones has the potential to be one of the defining singers of the decade, but her songwriting needs to take on more styles and more voices.
The Sun Doesn’t Like You
Thinking About You
My Dear Country