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Sunday, September 29, 2002

Yesterday, while shopping for a bon voyage gift for some pals heading down to Silicon Valley (we got them Radio Tarifa’s Rumba Argelina, which features one of my favorite tunes, “La Canal”), I did the ultimate impulse purchase thing and added one of the CDs sitting on the counter to my order, even as the clerk* was processing my payment. It was Norah JonesCome Away With Me, which I’d seen mentioned in several blogs of late.

When I bought it, I didn’t know anything about her—not the slightly bemusing fact that she’s Ravi Shankar’s daughter, raised quietly in Texas. I’m not impressed. She’s obviously capable of writing decent songs and of finding good collaborators, but the album ultimately felt weak and bland. Only three songs stood out for me: “Come Away With Me,” “One Flight Down,” and the very catchy “I’ve Got To See You Again,” but even then her apparent reluctance to move out of the breathy, laid-back voice and, as Emeril might say, kick it up a notch disappointed me. Same with the song choices—too samey, so that it’s hard for it to rise above the level of background noise.

I’m surprised Blue Note signed her. Jones’ anemic version of “The Nearness of You” would disappoint me coming from someone crooning in an Italian restaurant, much less from someone endorsed by a classic jazz label. Even though they’ve moved a long way from the old notion of “Blue Note jazz” in recent years (sometimes that’s great—I really like Cassandra Wilson and Don Byron, and Blue Note’s chillout compilation was decent; sometimes not so hot, like their championing of Patricia Barber, who I just don’t “get”). RealPlayer suggests that folks who like Norah might also enjoy Joni Mitchell and Ricki Lee Jones—yeah, until they kick off, which they almost always do; they wouldn’t stay breathy the whole damned album. Real also suggested Julie London, which probably is appropriate. Hey, but given Come Away With Me’s success, it sure paid off for Blue Note.

*In the interests of showing how screwed up I can be, I admit it’s possible that I made the extra purchase to prove to the clerk (who I would be happy never to see again) that I was the better person. Radio Tarifa were nowhere to be found in the U. Bookstore’s increasingly decent world music section, but since they’re often misfiled (they’re definitely Spanish, but since their original concept is that they’re playing the sounds of an imaginary “Moorish” radio station drifting over from Morocco to southern Spain, they’re often placed in African sections). Since we were in a bit of a hurry, we asked the dude to help us—hoping that he’d look in the computer and see where some hopeless bastard had filed it; instead he treats us like idiots who don’t know how to look through the tiny Spanish section and lectures us on how really, really good they are at filing. So we give up and go looking for something by Cesaria Evora, and what’s next to Cape Verde but North Africa (who knows why), and in that section are two Radio Tarifa CDs. We could’ve thrust them in the little oik’s face and told him not to assume that two women over 35 in a music section need to be condescended to. Instead I bought both and the Norah Jones disc.