The Legends of Laurel Canyon
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best
Transfiguration of Vincent
Christmas in the Heart
Glitter and Doom Live
Let It Roll: The Best of George Harrison
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
Playing for Change
Let’s cut to the chase here. If you are already a fan of Norah Jones, then you’ll love this album and if you don’t care for her, well, this won’t change your mind. Her characteristic sound is thoroughly intact on Not Too Late, from the pensive piano-based song arrangements to the molasses texture of her voice. It’s a winning formula, and I find it to be as pleasant as hot coffee on a cold Sunday morning. In other words, it meets all of my expectations, without posing much of a challenge. The discernible differences from her past work are rather subtle. For instance, the songs go down as smoothly as ever, but this time around the melodies are more intricate, and the songs take a bit longer to sink in.
Perhaps this is due to a change in methodology; Arif Mardin, whose deft touch provided a light and spacious feel on each recording, produced Previous albums. His passing necessitated a change, so Jones’ partner (and significant other) Lee Alexander took the reins. As the couple live together and have a recording studio in their home, Not Too Late became a homegrown affair. With no clock ticking away expensive minutes of professional studio time, the atmosphere was more relaxed, allowing the pair to experiment freely and focus on subtleties. The result is an album that could pass for pleasant, yuppie dinner Muzak or one that rewards multiple listens – it’s only as challenging as you want it to be.
The first indication of this subtle shift in priorities is the complete absence of cover songs; Jones writes or co-writes every song on Not Too Late, and the familiar, languid pace eventually gives way to an unexpected agenda. With its cabaret rhythms and political overtones, “Sinkin’ Soon” is a good case in point. Lyrical details imply discomfort with our current state of affairs (“In a boat that’s built of sticks and hay, we’ve drifted from the shore, with a captain who’s too proud to say that he dropped the oar”), and this is made explicit on “My Dear Country,” when Jones sings, “that nothing is as scary as Election Day.” On “Until the End,” she brings an unnamed famous associate down a peg, and then grows even more critical on the next track, bluntly stating, “You are not my friend. I cannot pretend you are.” It’s surprising to hear such sentiments on a Norah Jones album, but the languid mood disguises the dark moments just enough to render them invisible. If you like Norah Jones because her music goes down smooth and palatable, you needn’t worry, but fans who choose to read between the lines will notice the change.