It’s too little, ‘too late’ for Norah Jones

Adam Griffiths

Norah Jones just wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen on this concoction of music that’s being promoted as her third album. We were hoping for a back-to-basics junior effort. Instead of taking us away with her again, Jones ventures into some bizarre, uncharted land between pure folk and deep-south country.

Not Too Late comes three years after her first foray into folk, and it doesn’t appear with the ambiguity she toyed with on her last album, Feels Like Home. This release isn’t what everyone was waiting for —ÿ it’s not the healthy progression of an artist with potential. It’s just mature ambiguity: that weird realm that artists explore when they’re not too sure of where they’re going, or even what they’re doing.

Half the time it sounds like Jones is a brunette imitation Dolly Parton. On the rest of the album, she alludes to her once signature role as the female Michael Bubl‚.

The album starts on a hopeful note. “Wish I Could” is reminiscent of many of the tracks on her debut, Come Away With Me.

Then there’s this shift.

“Sinkin’ Soon,” the album’s second track, is a strange mix of bluesy, dampened trumpet and a Charleston piano part. The lyrics are fun, and the melody is swanky. It’s creative, and innovative, but comes off mildly as a twisted, down-on-the-bayou hoedown.

Then, the album is all over the place. “Not My Friend” is an inspiring short ditty that Jones finishes out over a simple piano line, “I’ll be OK/’cause when I back away/I’m gonna keep the handle of your gun in sight.”

There are shades of Feels Like Home all over this album. But “Sunrise” was a healthy compromise between Norah Jones croons in the jazz lounge, Norah Jones goes to Nashville and Norah Jones hikes the Appalachian Trail.

Her new songs like “Little Room” and “Be My Somebody,” during which she sings, “And I just keep praying/For them to slow down/So I can make some sense/Of the words that are pouring out,” are genre-ally hazy. Why didn’t she just go all the way and invite Santana along?

Not Too Late has a certain charm that keeps Jones popular. It’s unpredictable, there’s no consistency and has nothing for Jones to call her own. But that doesn’t make it bad. Some albums don’t fit into neat little musical boxes, but they work because there’s something new and intriguing about them that redefines pre-established boundaries.

Not Too Late bobs along like an old dog on a hot summer’s day, provides some thrilling tales from evening porch life and soon fades out softly, like the final hushed candle in the pale moonlight, on the album’s final title track.

“And it’s not too late/It’s not too late for love.”

Contact ALL correspondent Adam Griffiths at [email protected].