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Sunday, April 01, 2012



Jones Alone: Norah Jones

Written by Washington Post Express contributor Alfredo Flores

BREAKING UP IS never easy, and for jazz diva Norah Jones it was especially painful. Not only did she lose a boyfriend, but she also lost her band's bassist and one of her most valued musical collaborators. In her latest album, "The Fall," Jones deals with her slipping the moorings of love from bass player Lee Alexander, and explores her post-breakup dating woes (which included some real dogs). But after shedding these men, Jones found a new love. Ralph, an adorable rescue poodle, is her new "Man of the Hour." "Man" is a hilarious track comparing dogs to men, and rating their levels of loyalty to women. It's one of the more upbeat tracks of an album loaded with achy-breaky songs from the usually cheerful, if mellow, Jones. When deciding between a vegan or a pothead to date, Jones chooses her poodle — he's sweet, eats meat, and most importantly doesn't lie or cheat, and doesn't "have any baggage tied to [his] four feet." This is the final track off of "The Fall," the only one with Jones in her element — no backup singers, guitars or percussion; just her on a piano singing about love and letting the dreamy lyrics take her audience into a world of fantasy, canine but still appealing. Despite this cheery end track, "The Fall" is overall a departure for the nine-time Grammy Award winner. Undeniably talented, Jones is the top-selling female jazz musician of the 2000s, with nearly 40 millions albums sold, but critics have derided her music as being too easy to listen to, or in a more damning construction, too easy-listening. The charge is not unearned — her carefree, soothing songs continue to be a staple in coffeehouse chains and doctor's waiting rooms. Then came heartbreak. "I had to do something new," Jones told London's Daily Mail in March. "I couldn't let myself become any more mellow." The jazz piano-trained Jones plays mostly guitar in "The Fall," which can be traced to her working with Washington, D.C. native Jacquire King — best known for his production work with rockers Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse and Tom Waits. Jones has noted Waits' "Mule Variations" as one of her favorite albums, has now worked with Waits' producer and currently tours with his ex-guitarist, Marc Ribot. In addition to ditching bad men, Jones is also shedding her jazz diva image. She now starts out performances on a bright red electric guitar, leading off with the heartbreaker "I Wouldn't Need You," and continues into the new album's harder-rocking realm. Speaking to London's Music Week magazine last October, Jones said she sought out to work with indie-rock producer King because "I wanted to be a little grittier, because with my voice the tendency is for things to get smooth very quickly." It may be time for the 31-year-old to shift into high gear. Her music has been at cruising speed since she shot from playing Texas bars and lounges to hitting the Grammy jackpot in 2003 with her debut album "Come Away With Me." The album was a musical revelation — country-flavored piano and mellow acoustic jazz-pop combined with Jones' smooth, sultry, breathy vocals. She grew up away from the limelight of her sitarist superstar father, Ravi Shankar, and followed in her mother Sue Jones' footsteps by listening to classic jazz throughout childhood. She was also heavily influenced by the honky-tonk country scene in her native Grapevine, Texas. To this day, Jones gets her biggest applause when she performs her jazzy covers to country classics such as Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" and Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart." Now that she has a fully loaded arsenal of jazz, country and rock tracks to choose from, the ever-evolving Jones will be sure to keep fans of just about all genres very happy.» Warner Theater; 513 13th St. NW; with Sasha Dobson; Fri. April 2, 8 p.m., sold out; 202-783-4000. (Metro Center)

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