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Saturday, August 18, 2012 - Page updated at 05:30 a.m.
Norah Jones brings sinister new songs to Marymoor Park
By Paul de Barros
Seattle Times jazz critic
See Norah Jones in her new video, looking cute but sinister, floating on a lake in a rowboat, cooing the name "Miriam" with sloe-gin venom as the camera pans around her, suggesting there's something we're not seeing and, as the song unfolds, maybe something we don't really want to see. And, indeed, when we do finally see Miriam — who dared to mess with the singer's lover — she's headed toward the bottom of the lake, hair splayed like some Raymond Chandler moll.
Norah! Our Norah? Norah of the bland and vaporous — yet somehow always seductive and irresistible — country- and jazz-whisked adult contemporary songs? Norah of the multiplatinum 2002 debut album, "Come Away With Me"? Norah! We hardly knew ye!
Actually, Jones, who plays Marymoor Park on Saturday, has been edging into this area for some time now, ever since she and her bass player, Lee Alexander, broke up. In what may be a world record, Jones has now made two breakup albums about the split — the first was 2009's "The Fall" — but thanks to producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton, of Gnarls Barkley), this year's follow-up, "... Little Broken Hearts," has a darker edge.
The album jacket — based on the poster of a lurid Russ Meyer film, "Mudhoney," that happened to be hanging in the studio where the album was recorded — says a lot, with Jones peering out, one-eyed, through tousled black hair, ruby lips expectantly open.
Jones and Burton wrote the songs together, from scratch, a first for Jones for that kind of total collaboration.
The results are wicked. There is the vengeful "Happy Pills": "Never said we'd be friends, trying to keep myself away from you 'cause you're bad, bad news/ ... How does it feel to be the one shut out?"
And the title track: "Little broken hearts of the night slowly picking up their knives/On their way to the fight, tonight they want revenge."
It's not just Miriam who sinks. Nobody gets out of these songs alive.
Of course folk music is no stranger to stabbings down by the river, and Jones is as much a country folky as she is a pop jazzer. But the difference is that Burton has swathed the wisp of smoke that is Jones' voice and corked it in a bottle flavored by trip hop and Spaghetti Western synthesizers.
Reviews from the tour suggest that the band has absorbed that new sound into a familiar comfort zone, however, even though Jones is playing electric guitar in addition to her more customary piano and acoustic guitar. Some writers have even complained that Jones' sound is as bland and professional as ever.
But it's odd. Because for all the complaints, reviewers rarely come away from a Jones concert without saying it was very pleasant.
She may have gone a little sinister, but she's still as seductive as ever.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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