Norah Jones was back in town Tuesday night after a long hiatus from our fair city. Having had four warm-up shows at the Sheen Center in New York City a week prior to her Queen Elizabeth Theatre performance and tour kick-off, Jones voice showed few signs of rust.
The usual high volume of performances Jones has been known for throughout her 15 year career with Blue Note Records saw a considerable dip this past year, only having played 13 dates including the aforementioned New York tune-ups.
Insisting that she was not ‘Canada pandering’, Jones opened her set to a cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” off of Young’s Time Fades Away LP.
Jones shared her own take on the 1973 track by switching the original gender-voice as well as donning ‘white chucks’ over the original’s ‘young bucks’. Making even the songs penned by others her own, Jones often adds a new flare or changes the tempo to the litany of cover-songs she tends to perform to her live audiences.
Though not as committed to changing “Don’t Be Denied” live as she was on her sixth and latest release Day Breaks, Tuesday night’s rendition of one of the lesser known Neil Young tracks (in the icon’s lengthy back catalogue) seemed half the original writer’s and half Jones’ interpretation.
Vancouver being the first official stop-off for Jones’ tour in support of the above mentioned Day Breaks album, the usually coy if not slightly awkward Jones lived up to both descriptors early and often. With Day Breaks having been distributed October 08th, 2016, The Queen Elizabeth Theatre (QE) audience with only a few days to brush up on the 10 track LP, marked the first group of folks Jones would perform the new material in front of.
With a sound that harkened back to her 2002 diamond-certified debut album Come Away With Me, both Jones’ newest release Day Breaks, as well as her tour kick-off set reflected a coming home of sorts for the singer-songwriter.
After 2004’s strong sophomore outing Feels Like Home, Jones’ elected to distance herself from the piano and chose to embrace the youth she was until that point bypassing, by picking up the good old fashioned guitar.
Not afraid to mingle with contemporary artists such as Dave Grohl and The Foo Fighters as well as Mike Patton and Peeping Tom, Jones even showed up on a few rap albums with Q-Tip, OutKast and Talib Kweli in 2009.
Still, Jones was most favoured when she would play jazz, blues, and songs rooted in country music. Noted songs such as her collaborations with Ray Charles on “Here We Go Again”, and one of my personal favourites of Jones, her contribution to The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Medicated Magic LP, “Ruler of my Heart” seem to hold an extra special place in the hearts of fans.
Tuesday night’s show was very much a throwback in that much of the material played by Jones and band was off of the celebrated and highly awarded Come Away With Me and Feels Like Home albums, with a strong push for her already familiar new LP Day Breaks.
Following up the Neil Young cover track with 2002’s “I’ve Got To See You Again”, then sliding back into a couple of her new songs including the title track “Day Breaks” right off the top of the show, it was hard to establish whether Jones was staying safe in a comfort zone, or setting the tone for the 23 date tour that will seemingly see a lot of time with the estranged daughter of the late Ravi Shankar at the piano.
Said to be written in a place of peace, Jones claims to have written at least half of the songs on Day Breaks while at the kitchen piano, looking after her two-year-old son.
Having had the privilege of seeing Norah Jones in each of her prior two stop-offs in VanCity, it would be a glaring omittance if the loss of spark was not kicked around a bit when detailing Jones most recent performance at The QE.
With any one of, or a combination of potential catalysts pertaining to the factors leading to a show that was not bad, but lacked that ‘mojo’, or the intangible ‘it factor’ that Jones has exuded in the past.
One things is for certain, despite fighting whatever bug she was coming down with Tuesday night, just when you thought that perhaps Norah Jones was losing the best parts of her beautifully raspy voice, she would unleash that warlock upon the crowd, thus quelling any doubt of Jones’s abilities sonically .
While this time around the highlights were not a grandiose as when Zooey Deschanel joined Jones up on stage at the Orpheum Theatre for a couple tracks in 2007’s Jazz Fest. And Nor was there the personally rewarding bits like hearing the star born out of Texas by-way-of NYC cover the recently in town (at the time) Tom Waits with “Long Way Home”.
It will be interesting to read about the Norah Jones shows towards the end of the tour when being away from home, her children, poor health and questions surrounding confidence in the new material have all been addressed.
Norah Jones encored Tuesday night with a song many can’t help but hear most every morning if they, like I, are up before the dawn “Sunrise”. The easy-going jazz-tinged voice of Jones ended the evening with cover songs from two country music legends, Dolly Parton and the original outlaw, Hank Williams Sr. respectively.
With the ability to still melt hearts and make this reviewer a little weaker in the knees, Jones voice bid Vancouver farewell with “Creep On In”, and “How Many Times Have You Broken My heart”. Both song titles indicative of an invitation and question that under different circumstances I would put to the lovely Norah Jones, hoping that hypothetical opportunity does not take nine years this time around, though I too always take the long way home.