Review Summary: More of the same, really.
When Norah Jones's 2003 debut Come Away with Me hit store shelves, much of the public went on to consider Ms. Jones the voice of a generation. Sacrificing autotune and synthesized beats for crooning and smooth jazz arrangements, she clearly stood out among her contemporaries. Come Away with Me, while not without its stale moments and missteps, was a breath of fresh air in the pop scene, which seemed quite lacking around that time (arguably today as well). Nearly every radio station was playing the hit single "Don't Know Why," which still appears to be a staple in terms of jazz standards. So is it any wonder that Jones couldn't replicate such a massively successful album with her next two efforts?
While follow-up Feels Like Home still had many of her debut's endearing qualities, Not Too Late feels remarkably tired and, for lack of a better word, boring. It has its moments, sure, but everything just seems to drift about aimlessly without much direction from Jones. This is why folkier acoustic numbers such as opening highlight "Wish I Could" and the dark, eerie "Not My Friend" really pick up the album in certain spots. However, this doesn't exactly save stale compositions such as third single "Until the End," which drags from note one. It doesn't even have anything in the way of an intro; it just throws the listener in the middle of a bland waltz-like tune with little in the way of instrumental embellishments to keep things interesting. Also among such issues is the lack of command in Jones's voice; while Come Away with Me saw her performing with a similar vocal style, it sounded much more passionate and strong. Here, her voice lacks a certain punch needed to carry it from mediocrity. Granted, not all songs are unfortunate enough to suffer from such problems; check out "Sinkin' Soon." Beginning with a bluesy swagger in the piano and guitar work, the song is spiced up with a more "sly" vocal approach, coupled with some entertainingly jumpy piano lines. It shows Jones's adventurous side a bit more, which is also showcased in "My Dear Country." Clearly a political stab, another waltz-like 3/4 tempo is used, but to a much greater effect; Jones sends the listener through sort of a Baroque-sounding time tunnel, utilizing elements of that musical period to create a worried piece about the state of America and its leadership. Finally, there's "The Sun Doesn't Like You," which takes a simple acoustic guitar line and experiments with the instrumentation around it. Dynamics vary, Jones's voice sounds fitting, and the percussion is very light to fit the piece's mood.
Even then, this doesn't make up for the fact that about three-fourths of this record sounds like Come Away with Me outtakes. And as if more proof was needed, listen to both "Wake Me Up" and "Little Room," particularly the latter. "Little Room" is perhaps the biggest travesty on this album; it's essentially an easy-listening tune played in A Major, and after Jones counts the beats to kick off the song, everything feels completely underwhelming. There's never much in the way of instrumental variety, with the mellow acoustic guitar never spicing things up in any way and no other instruments prominently featured throughout. Jones's lyrics are innocent enough, but her singing is extremely repetitive. Her crooning is very one-note, and the whistling feels very unnecessary, despite finally offering some much-needed variety to the song. "Wake Me Up" is decent, but suffers from many of the same problems "Little Room" did; while the guitar work is a bit more varied, the slide-guitar and overall country atmosphere seems a little bit out-of-place.
So, after all that, I must really hate this record, right? Not really; the simple truth is that it's just not very interesting. Even in terms of wanting a record to wind down to, you'd be better off with Come Away with Me. This just feels like a collection of recycled b-sides from Jones's past work; it's not necessarily bad, just disappointing. Norah Jones is a great singer and artist, but even if you're a hardcore fan, be cautious on buying this one.
Recommended Tracks: Sinkin' Soon, The Sun Doesn't Like You, My Dear Country