(Blue Note Records) Since the release of her first full-length album, Come Away With Me, back in 2002, Norah Jones has turned heads. Fans, fellow musicians and awards panels all agreed on the artist’s talent and appeal. Her first offering reached number one in the Billboard 200 album charts and spawned “Don’t Know Why,” which topped the single charts. In 2003, she collected five Grammy Awards and cemented herself as a talent of unwavering worth. Whether it be her Jazz leanings, her soulful voice, easy lyricism, or Pop approach to all of the above, Norah Jones attracted notable attention and received invitations to appear with a number of other artists. Established and new, dangerous or safe, it seemed that anyone who knew music knew Norah Jones and wanted to get to know her better in the studio.
...Featuring, which may be released early as a Christmas stocking filler, is a timely tribute to the talent that continues to inspire and compel artists to try new sounds and accommodate one of the smoothest voices working today. The album is better than a ‘Greatest Hits’ compendium, since there are tracks here that appeared hidden on other artist’s collections, or deep in the running orders, not always released as singles. If there was any doubt as to why Norah Jones seems to be a regular guest on Grammy Award night, this collection is evidence enough of a standard to which other artists aspire.
Willie Nelson, a man who has set his own standards, works magic on “Baby it’s Cold Outside.” You can hear the smile in his voice as he delivers the pressing invitation for Jones to stay beside him and keep warm for the night. It’s a real treat for fans of both artists, and perhaps not such a surprise in direction from Jones, who had previously sung “Creepin’ In” with Dolly Parton on the Country flavored Feels Like Home album. (That song appears here later, just to revisit that special moment where Parton and Jones giggle together.) The track represents a sweet window where traditions of Country and Blues expose their common genetic heritage.
It’s is the more naked moments on the album, where Jones is stripped to raw talent, that work best. "Take off Your Cool," which first appeared on Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below reminds us that she’s comfortable and confident in any company and is not a woman, or artist, to be taken lightly, no matter how easy her vocal approach may be. Singing in an uncharacteristically choppy style, Jones works Q-Tip into a mellow fever on "Life is Better," the most seductive of Hip-Hop stylings in the collection.
There’s a strange continuity about this album. With such a variety of artists under one roof, listeners may expect moods to chop and change, for instrumentation to be at odds, or for genres to work against one another. What happens is a unification of intent. Everyone, from usually hard-rocking Foo-Fighters to the usually more exuberant Outkast, temper themselves to fit or accommodate Jones and the sensibility that she brings to a song. When these songs have appeared on others' albums, you know the artists cleaned house and gave the best of themselves to their guest. When artists came and visited Jones, you know they wiped their shoes and were on their best behavior.
A less confident artist, or a person of less certain identity, would have shifted like some kind of musical chameleon to fit with other artists when invited to guest on their albums. Jones is the most natural of talents and carries the lack of self-awareness that all truly cool performers possess.
This collection can be played as a ‘pick and mix’ of tracks from artists you’re more familiar with, but you will learn more and earn higher reward from sitting with the entire thread of appearances, duets, and compliments as they were assembled. At 18 tracks long, we truly see the breadth of Norah Jones’ vision, and there’s a sense that she’s perhaps been trying to open us, since the start of her career, to new possibilities in music and friendships.
For Fans Of: Ray Charles, Outkast, Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Belle & Sebastian
Standout Tracks: “Love Me,” “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” “Here We Go Again”