Norah Jones has been a household name for years, since the breakthrough success of her debut album Come Away With Me. Six studio albums later, Norah Jones is still evolving as an artist and is just as passionate about her music. So how did she face the pressure of second album syndrome after the unadulterated hype that followed Come Away With Me? February 6th 2019 marks fifteen years since the arrival of her sophomore album, Feels Like Home, another successful album where the young songstress (just 24 at the time) refused to succumb to the pressures of the public. Here we delve into Norah Jones’ discography as we explore her musical journal over the years.
Jones was raised by her mother, a music promoter, while her father is famous Indian sitar player and composer, Ravi Shankar. Shankar is known by many for his work with The Beatles. Jones was raised by her mother and says she didn’t start a relationship with her father until she was eighteen. As a child, Norah Jones began singing in church and taking voice and piano lessons. She grew up listening to the likes of Etta James, Aretha Franklin, and Billie Holliday, who had an impact on her Jazz influenced musical style. Jones grew up in Texas, and after high school, she attended the University of North Texas where she majored in Jazz piano. After two years there she headed for New York. Jones was eager to start her musical career, working at a restaurant by day and performing in Jazz Clubs at night. On her twenty-first birthday, she caught the attention of Shell White; an account executive from Jazz label Blue Note who saw Jones perform at New York Jazz club, The Living Room.
After impressing Blue Note with the depth of her voice, she was promptly offered a record deal and began working on Come Away With Me. Her jazz, country, and pop-infused debut arrived in February 2002, impressing critics with her refreshing voice and minimal production – a welcome change from the slick pop that was dominating the charts at the time. Come Away With Me was a slow burner, taking almost a year to hit number one, but after that there was no holding it back. It was certified Diamond in 2003 after selling over ten million copies, while Jones and her team won all eight Grammy’s the album was nominated for at the 45th Grammy Awards, including Record Of The Year and Best New Album. The album’s major hit was ‘Come Away With Me’ as it began to be heard anywhere and everywhere, its main claim to fame from appearing in the Love Actually soundtrack in 2003. ‘Don’t Know Why’ crept more slowly towards popularity but soon gained a similar cult-like status.
In retrospect, Jones has commented on how overwhelming this success was for her at the time and how fame happened ‘too fast’. Since her rise to fame, she has tried to her best to avoid the limelight, keeping her personal life as private as possible and opting out of the red carpet events. While she says she has become more comfortable in her fame as time passed, it’s something that’s stayed with her throughout her career.
Given the level of international fame that followed her debut, Jones made a conscious effort to avoid listening to the opinions of the public and press, who were trying to set the standard of what her sophomore album should sound like. Second album syndrome and the fear of being a one-hit wonder cant stunt any artist, but Jones made it clear that she was not trying to top the success of her debut and instead focus on the type of music she wanted to make. This decision worked in her favour, as Feels Like Home debuted at number one in six countries and was nominated for three Grammy awards, winning one of the nominations for her Summery single ‘Sunrise’. While the album was sonically similar to her previous record, it received generally positive reviews due to the unique hybrid sound.
2007’s Not Too Late was her third studio album that took things in a moodier direction, and also marked the first album where she wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks. It was also this year Jones’ made her first major acting debut, cast as the protagonist in ‘My Blueberry Nights’, directed by the famous auteur Wong Kar Wai, and also starring the likes of Jude Law and Natalie Portman. Jones continued to dabble in film throughout her career, with cameos and minor roles in in series’ like 30 Rock and Sesame St.
The Fall (2009) and Little Broken Hearts (2012) were a reflection of her break-up with boyfriend of seven years, her bassist Lee Alexander. Delving into rock and soul, Jones showed yet another side of her musical persona.
Her most recent studio album is Day Breaks, which arrived in 2016 and marked her return to the piano, after exploring more guitar and folk sounds on The Fall and Little Broken Hearts. “This new album feels full circle because I’m going back to my early influences…I really loved playing piano on this record”, she shared. Things also take a political turn on this album as Jones reflects on the unrest in the US and the world, given the result of the 2016 election. With three covers and nine original tracks, her focus for this album was to do everything live to keep it authentic.
These days she’s pleased with her career and the risks she has taken sonically. Norah Jones still keeps her personal life very private and lives with her anonymous musician husband and two children. She happily describes her career as modest and is pleased with the freedom her career allows her. With over 50 million copies sold, her laid back approach to her music has clearly worked in her favour.
Norah Jones will be coming to New Zealand for a special sold-out show at the Aotea Centre on April 23rd.