Norah Jones | Cory Chisel
Peabody Opera House
October 15, 2012
At game time for the second installment of the NLCS series, the Vegas betting line gave a slight edge to the Cardinals over the Giants. In the fine, you might say invisible, print, odds were even that Norah Jones would hold a crowd - not sold out, but not insulting - against the game, even as baseball matters took a turn for the worse, even as Jones took a turn on the electric guitar for a long rock rally that sounded a season away from the café torch songs that made her name.
Something was happening here, and you know what it is, don't you Ms. Jones?
What was happening was the latest chapter in the career of a talented, mercurial musician and singer and, most decisively, on-her-own songwriter, who has tried to buck the Starbucks and chaffed against the gazillion-selling jazzy pop of Come Away With Me. Every record and move and remix she's made - whether towards Americana on Feels Like Home or off-kilter pop of Not Too Late and Little Broken Hearts - has been to stave off the deadly Diana Krall-syndrome, in which jazz becomes the last thing jazz should ever be: smooth and predictable. And so she channels her jazz skills into rock music, hoping to find some edge. Norah Jones still has a voice like a pashmina evening shawl, but it's always been the creases and frays in her music that keep her fans rapt and returning.
A minute before 8 p.m. the lights snapped off, the house went to pitch and Cory Chisel and Adriel Harris walked out for a generous 40-minute set of original songs and one Tom Waits cover (the smartly-chosen Closing Time tune "Rosie") that seduced patrons who had no idea who the hell they were seeing. "Who are you?" someone yelled out mid-set. "Find me at the merch table and I'll tell you," Chisel shot back. With a black fedora and leather blazer, the lanky Chisel cut the figure of a serious but not severe singer-songwriter - a "poor man's Ryan Adams" according to a nearby critic - a guy who has some understanding of the craft but who settles for the first, maybe second cliché at hand. The lightweight material mattered not to the crowd, who welcomed his bold, fetching tenor and even more fetching harmonies - sometimes delivered lip to lip at a single mic - from Harris. Closing clap-a-long "Over Jordan" punctuated a confident, ultimately charming set.
A snap poll of press row suggested that I'm in the minority when it comes to the album that occasioned Jones' latest tour. One day, I'm sure, the Danger Mouse-produced Little Broken Hearts may be ranked the greatest indie-rock record ever made, if only because it features a real singer. But Jones wasn't quite ready to go there with her line check, opening instead with a nod to her debut album and the Ray Charles playbook: a swinging take on Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart," with the singer seated at the piano beneath a low-hanging flock of origami cranes. Guitarist Jason Roberts skanked about awkwardly, and the sound approximated country jazz ska, but delivered just slow enough that Jones' contra alto could get down to heart-melting business. She lingered at the piano for "What Am I to You?," which took her down the too-infrequent country-soul path, with her young band - featuring Josh Lattanzi on bass, Pete Remm on organ and Greg Wieczorek on drums - following her neatly and modestly, tight but not slavish, just backing her without alienating anyone from that voice.
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