Norah Jones is one of my favourite contemporary singer-songwriters. So, it was with a sense of giddy anticipation that I booked tickets last year for last night’s performance at the new, 5,000 seat Star Theatre here in Singapore.
The anticipation proved to be worth it, because it was a wonderful concert. The audience was warmed up by the excellent duo of Cory Chisel and Adriel Harris, who played some very cool Americana and Folk Rock, before Ms Jones and her band came onto a stage decorated with hanging paper cranes.
To many people, Norah Jones is best known for her first two albums (Come Away With Me and Feels Like Home). With a sultry, laid-back and easy going sound, she was a worldwide hit. However, Jones, who started out as a lounge singer, wrote very little of the early material and only by her third album (Not Too Late) was writing the larger share of the material she released.
Jones progression as a singer-songwriter has seen her material become edgier, darker and in many ways more satisfying. Although her two last albums (The Fall and Little Broken Hearts) have not been as commercially successful as her earlier works, they have been critically acclaimed and have brought her a new, younger and more urban fan base.
Of course, this presents a challenge for a popular artist. The fans who love her early work may feel alienated by some of her more recent material. But, that early success could easily become a cage for a bold and adventurous musician who is clearly growing as a songwriter.
For example, Miriam, from her latest album is arguably the best song Jones has written; a brooding and dastardly murder ballad that one could imagine being penned by Tom Waits or Nick Cave. It’s a world away from the sweet charm of Come Away With Me.
And yet, to hear Jones sing Come Away With Me today, is to hear a song whose naive hope and longing has been replaced with a gnawing sense of doubt. She sings it now as a woman who is perhaps more sure of her self, but less sure of the longevity of her charms.
But, there is no doubting Jones’ appeal as a performer. She moved freely from electric to acoustic piano, with confident spells in between on electric and acoustic guitars. And, her band supported her ably, shifting perfectly from solid to swampy grooves and doing well to recreate a more contemporary take on her early sound and faithfully reproducing their grittier tones of Jones’ recent recording. In particular Jason Abraham Roberts on guitar stood out, with his angular, effected and jangly guitar accents and solos.
From a purely artistic perspective, the standout moment was when the band performed huddled on one side of the stage into a single Telefunken microphone. In this age of auto-tune and backing tracks, the deceptively hard musical high-wire act of performing this way, with the band balancing their sound of the basis of where they stood and how they played, was a musical breath of fresh air.
And, in a way, the whole concert was equally refreshing. Norah Jones is a stellar talent, emerging from early success and growing with every album as a songwriter. This concert simply confirmed my admiration for her ability and courage as a performer and musician.