Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Norah Jones and pals return with their second collection of country-twang, filled with mostly with choice covers from the likes of Dolly, Kris, Lefty and Cash.  And of course, there's a Willie Nelson cut, hence the name.  The group shares the vocals, although Jones does get the main nod, sharing the lead job with songwriter Richard Julian.  These New York-based cats don't have too many country bones in their bodies, and it shows, as they sound way too cool. But it's the 2012, and the battle over whether it's okay for city folk to cover this stuff was won a long time ago.  There's no risk-taking here, no Gram Parsons vs. the Nashville Establishment.

While the gang here may have had lots of fun playing this semi-incognito in NYC bars, there are many other alternative folk out there doing it these days with much more heart and authenticity, and without their tongues in their cheeks.  If you want to hear it with heart, check out any Neko Case album, for instance.  But here Jones especially is putting on the twangy voice, rather than owning it.  While her harmonies are right on the Hank Williams classic Lovesick Blues, you can hear her trying to get the southern accent too.

Fist City is a better attempt, as the group puts some rockabilly guts into the Loretta Lynn hit, and Jones gets into the words rather than the role.  Julian's version of the lesser-known Willie song Permanently Lonely is touching and a bit sad, with a fine vocal in the Lyle Lovett style.  Overall, Julian is the more enjoyable singer in the project, also handling the Cash number Wide Open Road, with aplomb, and Jim Campilongo adds some killer guitar.  I'm much happier when Jones takes the harmony singer/piano player role.  Her true stand-out is For The Good Times, where she does a great piano part and her only winning vocal. 

Too much of the disc sounds like the group is treating the songs as novelty numbers.  I'm sure they respect the songs, and I'm sure they have lots of fun playing it, it just comes out as a holiday project rather than a serious treatment.

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