Album: Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note)
Classy collaboration with songs straight from the heart
Following her vocal contributions to his Rome tribute to Italian film music, Norah Jones and producer Danger Mouse develop their collaboration more deeply with Little Broken Hearts, a dozen explorations of romantic splits and sadness prompted by ructions in Jones's own private life.
It's an unusual alliance of often contradictory shadings, Danger Mouse's playful diversity casting all kinds of different shadows over Jones's subtly hypnotic, hurt tones. In places, notably the quixotic coda of fuzz guitar and swelling strings that concludes "Take It Back", it's almost as if the Mouse is still operating in his Rome mindset; but there's always an ingenious, often unexpected, connection linking the music to the mood of a specific song.
The title-track is typical: with its mysterious keyboards and subdued guitar twang, it's almost deconstructed rockabilly, laid out in methodical manner, Jones sounding like a more believable Lana Del Rey. The song – about an army of broken hearts attacking the dreams of those who broke them – is just plain strange, while elsewhere "Miriam" has an understated, haunting menace that's quite vicious, as Jones addresses her usurper: "Miriam, that's such a pretty name, and I'll keep saying it until you die".
For the most part, however, Little Broken Hearts exults in self-pity more than fantasies of recrimination. "She's 22" is slow, etiolated, replete with disappointment – "Does she make you happy? I'd like to see you happy" – while "After the Fall" uses flecks of guitar and shimmering strings over an organ bed to create a dreamy reverie of disappointment. But there are cheerier moments against which to balance the sadness, in the toytown-ish keyboard motif and sly funk groove of "Say Goodbye", and particularly in the irresistibly cute hummed hook to "Happy Pills", which signifies her casting-off of pain and misery. A resolution of sorts is reached when the clouds begin to clear on the concluding "All a Dream", whose discomfiting blend of watery bass and astringent guitar evokes the slow, difficult climb back to an even emotional keel following a broken heart.
Download: Say Goodbye; Little Broken Hearts; Happy Pills; All a Dream
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