There was a lot of hype leading up to the release of Carrie Underwood’s fourth studio album, Blown Away, with the promise of “darker” material. And I fell for it. Hook. Line. Sinker. Talk about disappointment. What Underwood really meant to say was, she dabbled in minor-key melodies, but it was no musical departure from what fans were expecting. Enter Norah Jones, who coincidentally released her new album, Little Broken Hearts on the same day as Underwood, yet received little hype (read: press).
We were introduced to this mild-mannered woman via her jazz-inflected Come Away With Me over a decade ago. An album that was so good it quickly cast the singer in the role of “sleepy piano-playing good girl.” As a result we’ve watched her blossom into a musical chameleon, collaborating with the likes of Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, and Ryan Adams to name a few. She’s also one-fourth of group The Little Willies, who released a cover album of country classics by Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton, which obviously had a profound effect on Jones’ fifth solo release in Little Broken Hearts, in which she sings of heartbreak, but also revenge and murder.
Produced by Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton), Little Broken Hearts, features a murder ballad title “Miriam”, which is sure to catch attention. The hazy song casts Jones in a real good-girl-gone-bad role after catching her lover in the act of cheating with a friend. She sings, “I know he said it’s not your fault, but I don’t believe that’s true/I’ve punished him for being too weak, now I’ve saved the best for you…Oh Miriam, that’s such a pretty name and I’ll keep saying it, until you die.” Take notes Carrie Underwood – that’s what it means to be “dark.” Jones has taken the tradition of a good-ol-whiskey-soaked country classic murder song and breathed new life into it. Her sultry voice rarely raises above a whisper, making this lullaby-esque tale that much more sinister.
You could say Little Broken Hearts plays out as a sequel to Rome, Danger Mouse’s collaboration with Italian composer Daniel Luppi, which featured Jack White and, of course, Norah Jones. Much like it’s predecessor, it’s filled with spaghetti-western style guitars, heavy reverb, and plucky contemporary melodies that are reminiscent of cinematic visions of yore while chronicling the shattered aftermath of an immensely personal breakup.
“She’s 22″ matches the candor and yearning of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” While Jones can’t belt like Adele can, she still manages to break your heart with her subtle woe-is-me approach to the lyrics before ending the song with one final plaintive refrain, “does she make you happy? I’d like to see you happy…” So much indecision, you get the sense that saying it aloud will help convince herself of it.
Meanwhile, bouncy lead single “Happy Pills” is quite possibly the most uptempo song on the entire album, yet still details the infidelity-induced end of a relationship.
After a decade in the industry, Norah Jones proves on Little Broken Hearts an innate understanding that heartbreak and pain make for powerful music.
Standout tracks: “Happy Pills,” “Miriam,” and “She’s 22,”