Norah Jones has always presented a bit of a dichotomy: Although she initially broke into the music scene as a jazz artist, winning eight Grammys in 2003, she has never felt particularly tied to the genre. More recent solo albums have stepped into the pop genre while her current side project, The Little Willies, explores classic country arrangements. If anything, Jones has proven to be a chameleon of sorts.
When Jones' latest release, Little Broken Hearts, was released earlier this year, it proved to be yet another change in direction. Recorded with producer Brian Burton (aka, Danger Mouse), the album undeniably retains Jones' signature, but also bears Burton's clear imprint. Perhaps Jones' most pop oriented release to date, the album is hauntingly atmospheric, with each of the songs tied together by stories of heartbreak and Jones' sultry vocals.
Unlike past albums, however, there's something different and more experimental about this, which shows a growth and new flexibility for Jones. Back in March, Jones used her showcase spot at SXSW to preview the new material and her new band, playing the new album in its entirety nearly two months before it's May release.
At that time, Jones discussed Little Broken Hearts and her interaction with Burton with Dan Oko of The Austin Chronicle, revealing a little of what makes the new album so different.
When asked what collaborating with Burton was like, Jones answered, "It's great. We got to know each other on the Rome album and I asked if we wanted to work together. He said we should mess around in the studio and just see what we come up with, so we did. I never worked like that before, where you're writing everything in the studio pretty much and sort of building tracks and playing whatever instruments are around. That was really fun for me and we go along really well."
When asked about the differences in Burton's approach, Jones said "He definitely goes for a different sound than I'm used to -- and he has a lot of amazing vintage keyboards. His studio is small, but it's packed with all these great old organs and stuff that I don't even know how to work, but when we go the right sound, I could play it. That was really fun. I don't have patience for gear. I never have. I'm not a knob turner, so it was great to have access to all this stuff and that's why the record sounds very different for me."
When discussing the direction Jones went with this latest release, Oko asked Jones if she had any specific notions about the sound of the new album and if she had a sense that she would be doing something new as she went into the project. In response, Jones shared, "Well, I knew it was going to sound different and I was excited to try his thing. I know he likes really dark things, so we talked about it and I told him I wasn't really trying to make a dark record, but whatever happens is fine with me. And it was great, because I feel like he really turned me on to a lot of things. And I feel like I might have turned him on to some things too. It just kind of evolved. Half way through, we listened to all the songs together and it just started to take shape."
Of course, Jones has always been known as a phenomenal musician and solid songwriter. She has also proven to be shrewd in the business aspects of her career, keeping a firm grasp on her tours as well as the creative aspects of each album.
This time out, Jones has chosen to tour with Cory Chisel, whose latest album, Old Believers, was released in June. Although the album is a far cry from Jones' work, it is also very complementary as it puts Chisel's songwriting front and center while exploring pop and Americana. When asked how he got picked to open for Jones on the current tour (which also included a European run in September), Chisel shared that Jones had final say and invited him to join her on tour.
"That's just how Norah works," he said. "In a great way, she is bigger than any machine. After all, no one is more qualified to say who she should tour with than her. She just listens to her instincts on who she wants to tour with."
When asked how the tour has worked out so far, Chisel shared that he was thrilled and "it makes for a really fun rolling circus."
Although Chisel's name may not be well known, he's been developing his career for a number of years now, having been previously signed to RCA records. After an amicable parting of ways, Chisel is now signed to Readymade Records, which is run by Brendan Benson and has distribution through Sony, giving Chisel the best of both worlds: an independent label and major label distribution.
This isn't Chisel's first appearance in Tulsa, although his last visit came with a showcase spot at DFest in 2008, while he was still signed to RCA. As a result, Chisel shared that Tulsa is one of the cities he is looking forward visiting on this tour.
The Norah Jones tour seems like a perfect opportunity for Chisel in that even though his songwriting may not parallel Jones', her audience is made up of music lovers who will give all styles a fair listen. When discussing this, Chisel said, "My main focus is to let people know who I am and make sure people know that when they see my record come out, they know they can buy it with no worries of what they're getting."
"I think I can make those kinds of fans on this tour," he said. "Like, when I see a Tom Waits album, I just buy it. Even if it's not my favorite, I know it will be good. That's the kind of artist I want to be and the kind of fans I'm trying to connect with."
Although Chisel's sound leans a little more into country and Americana, the album all hinges around his voice and songwriting. At the same time, there's an atmospheric and haunting quality to the new album that links it to Jones' latest, which makes the pairing make sense.
Jones' Little Broken Hearts tour stops at Brady Theater this Tuesday night, Oct. 16. The show will begin at 8pm with Cory Chisel opening the show.
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