Review: …Little Broken Hearts (Norah Jones)

28 total awards, 4 platinum albums, universal critical acclaim — If you are still unfamiliar with the work of Norah Jones, the bandwagon still has plenty of room.

…Little Broken Hearts, Jones’s fifth studio release, is a more confident, refined version of The Fall-era Norah Jones sound. While jazz still has a nice foothold near the core of Jones’s influences, …Little Broken Hearts ventures boldly into colourful and continually creative domains that even The Fall didn’t quite reach.

Producer Brian Burton (more commonly known as Danger Mouse, as well as 50% of both Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells) is a masterful guide in the overseer’s seat for ...Little Broken Hearts. Not only does he perfectly balance vintage sounds with modern arrangements (which creates a fully textured, yet still timeless sonic atmosphere), but his co-composing contributions are invaluable and turn Jones’s already strong pieces into fully-blossemed roses of the beautiful and blemished sides of a romantic relationship.

While each of the twelve incredible tunes deserves a large paragraph of detailed, commendatory attention, the best of the best tracks include the groovy, defiant “Say Goodbye;” the melodically-lush and instrumentally-mellifluous “After the Fall,” the aching, poignant “Travelin’ On;” and the mid-tempo, mellow, road anthem “On the Road.” Each boasts classy and classic lyrics, satiable melodies, and arrangements that cannot be denied on any level.

The crowning jewel (amongst the many prime gems) of the record, though, is the sinister “Miriam.” Jones’s passionate loathing for her ex-boyfriend’s mistress is furious and focused, and her convincing narration exacts a perfect revenge on a personal, yet understandable level. Simple-but-effective lyrical phrases (backed by slightly-flat piano, eerie percussion, and appropriately creepy vocal harmony) such as “Miriam / When you were having fun / In my big, pretty house / Did you think twice?” and “Miriam / That’s such a pretty name / I’m gonna say it when / I make you cry” are complimented perfectly and poetically by a twisted resolve at the song’s end. It’s easily Jones’s most ambitious and rewarding composition to date, and arguably one of the best tracks of the decade to boot.

Jones and Burton, along with the other stellar studio musicians who contributed to the record, have crafted something really special here. The album is available on 180-gram, white vinyl, and sounds beyond excellent in this audiophile-approved format — This is a record you must own, and production appreciation (by way of vinyl or lossless audio) is strongly advised, in this scenario. Norah Jones — The modern, female champion of the “Vocal” genre — will certainly be remembered for an outstanding album such as this.

A- / ☆

iTunes (Mastered for iTunes)


Review: Ashes & Fire (Ryan Adams)

Classy, classic, and appropriately accessible.

Ryan Adams has never played the “safe” card a single time throughout his endlessly interesting (and still somewhat budding) career. Even when his original record label (Lost Highway) forced him to swap in Gold for The Suicide Handbook or Rock N Roll for Love is Hell, the man sprang for “unpredictable,” “wild,” and “rebellious.” Even after he stopped doing (ridiculous amounts of) drugs, Adams launched his own record label and began releasing things as unexpected as Orion— His sci-fi, metal-influenced concept album.

Ashes & Fire, Adams’s latest opus, presents a completely different Ryan Adams. “I don’t remember, were we wild and young?,” Adams reflects back in Ashes & Fire‘s late-album track “Lucky Now.” “The lights will draw you in / And the dark will bring you down / And the night will break your heart / But only if you’re lucky now,”  he wisely cautions.

Mysteriously absent are the sometimes scarce, sometimes predominant lyrical expletives of Adams’s earlier years. He hardly even touches an electric guitar, for goodness’ sake! In fact, most of these tracks are very simple in arrangement— Usually no more than four or five tracks on each song, led by Adams on acoustic guitar. The great victory of this approach, however, is Glyn Jones’s thoughtful and masterful production (on analogue, I might add), and how comfortably it matches Adams’s writing style. The stunning “Chains of Love” melodically conjures memories of Easy Tiger-era Adams, while Jones’s sonic precision moves the timestamp back into an undetermined-yet-ageless sound.

Norah Jones again joins Adams, along with Heartbreakers (as in, “Tom Petty and the…”) keyboardist Benmont Tench— And the quiet beauty of the eleven Ashes & Fire tracks are effortlessly revealed through this strong collaboration of Adams and his team. In other words; Adams has made his leap into maturity, and this grown-up approach dresses his fine new tunes aptly.

Lyrically, Adams is again quite simple and straight-forward. While his poetic literary voice is still strong, prevalent, and colorful, Adams seems to have trimmed the fat to the point where general accessibility is fluent and natural, and where listener comprehension is a pleasant ease. All of this careful revision leads to a refreshingly classic-caliber lyrical form from the already very talented Adams.

Adams then sneaks in a wedding/honeymoon ballad at the album’s close. (Adams recently wed to famed actress Mandy Moore, who also features on Ashes & Fire.) After all of these years of Adams defying the unkindness of love and rebuking the injustice and cruelty of life, “I Love You But I Don’t Know What to Say” is a breathtaking and joyous resolve— Almost as a period after a long series of question marks on the pages of a lovelorn songwriter. It is incredible.

Ashes & Fire is Ryan Adams at his calmest, strongest, and most mature. What more could one want?