Album + Compilation
A raft of dinner party albums from Norah Jones has been irreversibly with us throughout the last decade and, as much as her vocal prowess has impressed, the inevitable impression is of lightness, insubstantiality. To observers who don't have dinner parties, she is borderline tawdry, saccharine and marooned between jazz acceptance and the infested waters of easy listening. What may have escaped said observers, though, is that on occasion she has been a part of some genuinely interesting collaborations, which is where this surprisingly varied collection of duets comes in. But be warned - the quality is as variable as the cast.
At its worst, the collection feels predictable. Virginia Moon, a duet with Foo Fighters, can't go down as Jones' fault, fortunately - blame lies squarely with Dave Grohl, who leaves nothing for Jones to do, a mere backing vocalist on an under-written and sickly ballad. You can almost hear Grohl's eyebrows arching in a tasteful wince. Similarly, Willie Nelson and Jones' take on Baby It's Cold Outside is deeply unattractive, and no amount of plinking piano can save it from being a complete turn-off.
Peppered across the record are uninspiring jazzy ballads, what you might call 'stock' for Jones. However, as we've established, there are some super surprises for those who might not have gotten past Come Away with Me. Take Off Your Cool is a blissfully meandering acoustic work that brilliantly pits Jones against Andre 3000 of OutKast, a luxurious song that sounds haunting when removed from the context of the latter's The Love Below record.
Furthermore, the superb pairing of Jones with Belle and Sebastian yields the strongest result on the whole record. Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John is a proper, adult pop song that shows Jones having a ball with lines like "can I see what's underneath your bed", and "can I stay until the milkman's working". The virtue has to lie mostly with the Scottish legends, but Jones brings such depth to the recording that it seems impossible to imagine it without her.
It's fair to say that for every misstep there's an unexpectedly winning duet, but not enough of Jones' maturity is brought to the fore. There's too much inoffensive filler that doesn't do her justice, and it's indisputable that it would've been a stronger release had it been pruned of several songs.