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Norah JonesNorah Jones, Come Away With Me (Blue Note Records 2002) - Never, out of the many thousands of albums that I have heard, have I ever liked a disk released on the jazz-based label, Blue Note Records. And so I treated the Norah Jones release with skepticism, despite its sales of more than six million units.

But then, I attended the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, where I heard this album all over the place at the high end audio show at the Alexis Park Hotel. I AM NOW A BELIEVER. I hear the magic in the Arif Mardin-produced album.

Norah JonesNow aged 23, the diminutive singer (she stands 5'1") has lived in such locales as New York City, Detroit, and Texas. Norah comes from a musical background, as her mother, Sue Jones, was a concert producer for years in New York. Her father is Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar. Jones as born in New York near the end of her parent's nine-year relationship and picked up most of her early musical tastes from her mother's deep record collection.

Norah JonesJones saw Shankar sparingly during her youth and didn't mention him in her press biography to avoid the appearance of using the relationship for publicity reasons. When reporters learned of the connection, she began acknowledging him to avoid any misunderstanding. Norah says simply, "I love my dad. We are very close."

At her request, she signed with Bruce Lundvall, the head of Blue Note Records. With an extraordinary undersell effort by the label, Jones has managed to sell a massive number of albums, proving that there is a hunger for singers who deliver a true melody and an inspired interpretation. Remember Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Etta James? Jones channels all of them, working in a piano-based environment.

Norah JonesComments Lundvall, "I told Norah that this isn't really a jazz album, but she insisted on being on Blue Note. So I decided it was time to break some of the rules around here." That bet has paid off big time.

Her backing band includes Lee Alexander on bass, Brian Blade, Dan Rieser, and Kenny Wollesen on drums, and Jesse Harris, Kevin Breit, and Adam Levy on guitars. The production on Come Away With Me is languid and sweet. Comments producer Arif Mardin, "There is more than simply the voice behind great talents. Working with Aretha Franklin and others over the years, I've seen the inner flame that drives them, and Norah has that sensitivity and passion. It's not something you can teach."

Norah JonesLike the great albums from such performers as Jackson Browne, Come Away With Me brings the songs front and center. The album opens with the incredibly strong, "Don't Know Why," which showcases Jones confessional story-telling style. Jones' singing is intimate and brings the listener to the heart of the material.

Other highlights include a dropdead cover of "Cold, Cold Heart" (by the original Hank Williams), and the lusty, "Turn Me On" (by J. D. Loudermilk).

Like the lovely piano-based stylings of Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones uses the piano to build a song with a core that can't be denied. At the same time, she avoids the confessional excesses of Tori Amos. Maybe fame will spoil the purity of this voice. Enjoy Come Away With Me for its unadulterated pleasures.

Sheryl CrowSheryl Crow, C'mon, C'mon (A&M Records 2002) - Sheryl Crow, who is no newcomer to the music business, returns with studio album number four. Buoyed by a great hit single ("Soak Up the Sun"), Sheryl's starting to have fun again.

Sheryl broke on the scene with Tuesday Night Music Club, which scored Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance on "All I Wanna Do." Her self-titled followup included the hit single "If It Makes You Happy," which won another Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Original album artwork Yet Sheryl admits that all the attention isn't easy. Going into recording sessions in 2000, she said, "I was stricken with melancholy on a day-to-day basis. . . I had a couple of really down experiences that were not related to anything other than the fact that I had just been so overwhelmed for the last few years. I allowed music to become my life instead of something that I do and my life being my life."

Sheryl CrowContinues Sheryl, "Also, there was the kind of iffy health I was in and my relationship kind of falling apart at that juncture. My cyclical depression struck very hard this time. Had Mariah Carey not done it first, I would have checked myself into a hospital. There's a lot of people on this planet right now who are going through serious changes, particularly [since last] year. I'm definitely going through them, and this record represents how I've been feeling."

Sheryl's band includes Tim Smith on guitar and bass, Jim Bogios on drums, Mike Rowe on keyboards, Peter Stroud on lead guitar, Lorenza Ponce on violin, and Matt Brubeck on cello.

Sheryl recruited a host of high-level artists to help her, including Stevie Nicks, who provides guest vocals on the title track. In addition, Don Henley appears for a duet on "It's So Easy" and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines appears on one of the album's best rocking tracks, "Abilene."

Sheryl CrowLet's not kid anybody - there are some extremely personal tracks, including "Save and Sound" and the concluding "Weather Channel" (with guest vocals from Emmylou Harris). Yet Sheryl gets back to her rocking self on "Over You." And the hit single "Soak Up the Sun" (with guest vocals from Liz Phair) is a great summertime single, with a bouncy beat.

Sheryl CrowThe single is featured in the American Express ads on TV, a collaboration that stretches back to her Central Park concert in New York. Comments Sheryl, "I used to have incredible reticence about anything that was corporate. But you know what? In the last few years, all the rules are being rewritten. Everything is starting to overlap, whether you think it's fortunate or unfortunate. You just have to have control so you can control your integrity."

The sprightly "Lucky Kid" best sums up the feeling on the album. Says Sheryl, "I wanted to make a rock record that I could play in the summer, in the heat, that just rocked like the old classic rock records. I got away from that in the middle, and when I came back to it at the end, I was able to do it." Glad to have you with us again.

- Randy Krbechek © 2003

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