So many well-hyped young jazz singers seem lost in time, faintly imitating another era’s stars. But at 22, Norah Jones is no one’s retread. On her Blue Note debut, Come Away With Me, she turns Hank Williams’ ”Cold Cold Heart” into a weary meditation and Hoagy Carmichael’s ”The Nearness of You” into a whispered promise, without sounding derivative.
Jones’ album has the lope of Western swing and the flow of a good live set. She gets a hand from musicians who are used to straddling the jazz-pop divide. Guitarist Bill Frisell lends his wavering tone to one track. Drummer Brian Blade deepens the groove of several others. But Jones’ working band, with guitarist Jesse Harris, bassist Lee Alexander, and drummer Dan Rieser, defines each song’s essence. And their original compositions are the album’s strengths.
”Come Away With Me” and ”Lonestar” are showstopping mixtures of tenderness and twang. ”I’ve Got to See You Again” is haunting and insistent, ”The Long Day Is Over” resolute and prayerful. Jones has obviously absorbed a wide range of vocal influences — from Cassandra Wilson to Carly Simon to Tom Waits, and then some. Her voice is supple and precise, her touch on piano lovely. And both speak of the here and now.