“This is such a fun place. It feels like this is going well.” There couldn’t have been a better minimal declaration chased by a chuckle to delicately come from Norah Jones’s lips this rainy March evening.
The best-selling Blue Note Records artist, dressed unadorned in a knee-length black dress and gray shawl, sits upright comfortably behind a black baby grand piano, playing before a sold-out audience at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
The nine-time Grammy winner’s close to two-hour repertoire, Jones’s first headlining performance at the venue since 2012 for her Danger Mouse-assisted concept album Little Broken Hearts, offers some mesmerizing, eye-opening musical explorations spanning the honey-voiced musician’s six albums.
“I’ve Got to See You Again,” from Jones’s 2002 chart-topping debut Come Away With Me, kicked off the entire performance, with Jones backed by a military drum cadence courtesy of Greg Wieczorek. A trifecta of selections from her current 12-song LP Day Breaks followed: a gospel-flavored “Tragedy,” the Holland-Dozier-Holland-esque “Flipside” and the jazzy downtempo “Burn,” sprinkled with the Grapevine, Texas native’s dexterity laying down some exceptional arpeggio work.
The modest singer and daughter of late sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar often gets lumped into being ambient Starbucks noise or elevator music. Her performance at The Fox demonstrates her ability to be the antithesis of those music critic assessments. Jones’ musicianship coupled with her impeccable pitch and perfect tone closely rivals any studio recording in Jones’ catalog. It’s seriously hard to distinguish between her voice on-stage and on wax, a true feat for any recording artist to accomplish.
Jones breezes through an exuberant “Sinkin’ Soon,” a soothing “Out on the Road” and a bluesy Neil Young cover, “Don’t Be Denied.” Once the former University of North Texas student migrates a few steps over to the Fender Rhodes piano, the rhythmic pop melody of “Chasing Pirates” from her 2009 album The Fall segues briskly into the country-tinged, pedal steel-peppered “Rosie’s Lullaby” from 2007’s Not Too Late.
Proceeding to then strap on an electric guitar and tune it, Jones strums out “Tell Yer Mama.” Her plectrum talents crank out some amplifier-bursting riffs on the playful “Don’t Know What It Means,” a track she recorded as part of Puss N Boots. Before long, Jones the troubadour returns to her element, giving the lush ballad “Don’t Know Why” a folk makeover and chopsticks-inspired piano solos throughout “Little Broken Hearts,” “Humble Me” and “Painter Song.”
Jones, who will turn 38 later this month, grabs the guitar yet again for the airy “Stuck” before closing with “Carry On” behind the piano. Not even a minute later, the crowd-pleasing performer famous for writing songs in her kitchen reemerged, this time with an auburn-toned acoustic guitar.
For an encore, Jones treated the audience to a reappearance of her adoration for country and western: performing limpid (yet rustic) versions of “Sunrise” and “Come Away with Me.”
Considering this year marks 15 years since the unassuming artist’s diamond-certified debut release, Jones wins as a live performer because of her authenticity and less-is-more approach. There are no pyrotechnics, abundance of props or costume changes. Just seamless song transitions and a deep appreciation for blurring musical styles.
Jones is evidence that even as digital streams and clicks determine which artists break through to audiences, being able to strictly concentrate on performance and evolving as a musician will give entertainers a longer shelf life.