NEW ORLEANS — Norah Jones burst onto the music scene in 2002 with her debut album “Come Away With Me.” She was 22 years old.
Venerable jazz label Blue Note Records released the album in late February of that year. By mid-March, when Jones appeared at the annual South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, she’d received an avalanche of mainstream and music press acclaim.
Despite her Blue Note affiliation, “Come Away With Me” was no jazz record. Jones, a Texan who’d moved to New York City to be a jazz pianist, had instead found a sweet, warm spot that exists amidst jazz, pop and country music.
In the 10 years since its release, “Come Away With Me” has sold 25 million copies. Jones has mostly stayed within that album’s quiet, laid back and seductive but often bittersweet tone.
While none of her follow-up albums matched the mammoth sales of her debut, Jones still sells lots of music and she’s still a critic’s darling. Tuesday at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, Jones and her band played many songs from her latest album, “Little Broken Hearts,” during a nearly sold-out show.
She opened with Hank Williams’ “Cold Cold Heart,” a song featured on her album debut. Appearing with a band featuring Jason Abraham Roberts on the guitar, Josh Lattanzi playing upright acoustic and electric bass, Pete Remm at keyboards and Greg ‘G Wiz’ Wieczorek playing drums, Williams’ country classic got a jazzy treatment. Old Hank, as great as he was, probably never knew such chords existed.
Jones and the band performed beneath a flock of faux lit birds hanging from the theater’s stage rigging. Before playing the moody title song from “Little Broken Hearts,” she moved from the spinet piano she began the show with to an electric guitar. The ever-enthusiastic Roberts enhanced the latter song’s dark atmosphere by making liberal use of his guitar’s tremolo bar.
The “Little Broken Hearts” album, with its heavy use of electric instruments, may be the loudest record of Jones’ career, but it’s still got Jones’ special touch.
Throughout her 90-minute show, Jones moved from sitting at the piano to standing to play electric guitar and standing again to play an electric keyboard. Despite the shifting around, song-to-song transitions were seamless.
At her cool sounding electric keyboard, Jones played more “Little Broken Hearts” songs, including the angry “Say Goodbye” and a song that’s as rocking as she’s ever been, “Take It Back.”
Jones’ honey-warm, unaffected alto voice and the mix of sweet and sad in her material gave the show continuity that never faltered. Her original songs, too, including “Broken Hearts” selections, never miss at being beguilingly well-crafted.
Jones chose to play one of her “Come Away With Me” songs, “Don’t Know Why,” without her band, alone at the piano. As many times as she’s done it, she sang and played the song Tuesday night as if it were brand new.
The encore opened with Jones and her entire band gathered at the front of the stage in an all acoustic format. They played her Tex-Mex, waltz interpretation of a set of lyrics written by Hank Williams but never recorded by him, “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?” Another encore selection, “Come Away With Me,” took her back to the beginning. It was, like so much of the performance, transporting.
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