Norah Jones is a big name. She’s been signed to premier US jazz label, Blue Note, since 2002. Established in New York City in 1939, Blue Note has issued releases from such genre gurus as Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, Anita Baker and Robert Glasper. Jazz musicians like Brian Blade and Lee Alexander frequently appear on Jones’ albums, but her songwriting typically incorporates elements of blues, folk, soul and pop.
This has given Jones huge crossover appeal. Her 2002 debut, Come Away With Me, has sold in excess of 27 million copies, reaching number one in Australia, the UK, USA, Canada and France upon release. She’s critically admired and has won nine Grammys including Record of the Year for ‘Don’t Know Why’ and the Ray Charles collaboration ‘Here We Go Again’.
Before her commercial breakthrough Jones was active in the New York jazz scene, singing with the JC Hopkins Biggish Band and the Peter Malick Group.
A year after her first album, Jones sang lead on the Peter Malick Group’s, New York City, which features five Malick originals plus covers of Bob Dylan’s ‘Heart of Mine’ and ‘All Your Love’ by Chicago bluesman Magic Sam.
Jones also fronts the country and Americana group, the Little Willies, who’ve released two albums covering songs originally performed by Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.
As Malick wrote in the liner notes to, “in the tradition of Billie Holiday [Jones has a] stunningly beautiful, blues infused voice.” So who wouldn’t want to work with her?
The 2010 release …Featuring compiled the majority of Jones’s guest vocal appearances up until that point and it’s an illustrative snapshot of her roaming propensity. It contains ‘Virginia Moon’ from the Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor, ‘Life is Better’ from Q-Tip’s The Renaissance, the Andre 3000 collab ‘Take Off Your Cool’ from Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below plus songs with Herbie Hancock, Willie Nelson, Wyclef Jean and Belle and Sebastian.
Perhaps after the enormous success of her first couple of albums, Jones saw collaboration as a way of breaking down expectations and expanding her demographic. Whatever it is, the American singer has continued to link up with a wide range of artists in the years since …Featuring. Here are five standouts from her recent collaborative endeavours.
Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi feat. Norah Jones – Black (Rome, 2011)
Producer Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) aspires to be an auteur. The role played by other music producers doesn’t match his ambitions, so he’s modelled himself after film directors. True, this makes him sound like a bit of a wanker, but in 2011 he sought to put his money where his mouth is and teamed up with cinematic composer Daniele Luppi on the spaghetti western-inspired Rome.
The album features a number of musicians who played on Morricone’s classic spaghetti western scores as well as Jones and Jack White providing lead vocals on three songs a piece. Whether the record lives up to the producer’s lofty proposal is up for debate, but the Jones-helmed ‘Black’ is a highlight. A relatively laidback number led by acoustic guitar and busy electric bass playing, Jones gives a smoky vocal performance that’s as understated as it is melodically precise.
Jones’ fifth album, Little Broken Hearts, arrived the following year and was entirely produced and co-written by Burton.
Anoushka Shankar feat. Norah Jones – Traces of You (Traces of You, 2013)
British-Indian sitar player Anoushka Shankar is Jones’ half-sister. Their father is Hindustani classical music doyen, Ravi Shankar, who exerted a major influence on Anoushka’s career path.
Jones’ relationship with her father was fairly inconsistent, although it’s reported she spent time with him in Delhi in the lead up to her 2009 release, The Fall. By contrast, Anoushka had a close musical relationship with Ravi, gaining sitar training as a young child and performing as a member of his band for many years.
Following their father’s death, Jones and Shankar linked up for three songs on Anoushka’s Traces of You LP. The title track finds Jones weaving in and around Shankar’s sitar. It’s a peaceful and stirring composition that revolves around the refrain, “Traces of you linger like a teardrop.”
Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones – Rockin’ Alone (In An Old Rockin’ Chair) (Foreverly, 2013)
‘Rockin’ Alone (In An Old Rockin’ Chair)’ was first recorded by the Burnett Bros. in 1933 and has since been reworked by Tex Owens, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow and Smiley Batts. This version comes from Jones and Armstrong’s Foreverly LP, a full album reboot of The Everly Brothers’ 1958 release, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.
For an album conceived by the Green Day frontman, Foreverly is impressively refined. The album’s not a total knockout, but ‘Rockin’ Alone (In An Old Rockin’ Chair)’ is a moment of delicate sophistication and tight vocal harmonies.
Norah Jones – A Song With No Name (single, 2018)
Prior to her upcoming Australian tour, Jones will release her seventh solo LP, Begin Again. A series of singles trickled out in 2018 including the Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman) collaboration ‘My Heart is Full’ and two songs produced and co-written by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy – ‘A Song With No Name’ and Wintertime’.
‘A Song With No Name’ is a bare bones production featuring close-miked acoustic guitar and Jones’ double tracked, reverb-flecked vocals. Tweedy is no stranger to a duet, but he stays out of the way and lets Jones’ reflective lead vocal shine.
It’s enchanting in its intimacy and you’re left feeling melancholy at the end of its four-minute run time.
Mercury Rev feat. Norah Jones – Okolona River Bottom Band (Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited, 2019)
A new year brought with it a new collaboration. Mercury Rev’s full album reimagining of Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete starts with a bang as Jones stands out front on the surreal, ‘Okolona River Bottom Band’.
Gentry’s 1968 stripped-back original is transformed into a jazzy space rock number full of glissandi pianos and shimmering percussion. Jones beams out front, showing off her robust range and amplifying the band’s baroque arrangement.
Norah Jones will play Byron Bay Bluesfest this April.The nine-time Grammy winner will also perform headline dates in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart, marking her first shows in Australia in six years. Dates and details below.
Norah Jones Bluesfest 2019 Sideshows
Tickets on sale now
Friday, 12th April
Palais Theatre, Melbourne (All Ages)
Sunday, 14th April
State Theatre, Sydney (All Ages)
Wednesday, 17th April
Federation Concert Hall, Hobart (All Ages)