The Little Willies
Norah Jones has never been a stranger to old-school country; hints of Patsy Cline sensuality and Floyd Cramer piano have crept into her two albums. With friends and band members, she’s formed a roots-music side project, the Little Willies, their name inspired by Willie Nelson. On their self-titled debut, the musicians unwind with a set of Nashville standards and like-minded originals, all of it scaled back in the best pro-Hank, anti-pop-crossover style. The vibe is cozy and Starbucks-friendly, and Jones’ voice sounds cuddly on the Western-swing classic ”Roly Poly.” But the band’s other vocal lead, reedy-voiced New York singer-songwriter Richard Julian, doesn’t do justice to songs by alt-country heroes Townes Van Zandt and Tompall Glaser. His version of Hank’s jokey-but-uneasy ”I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” is, like the album itself, too watered-down, as if the goal were to make country for people who don’t normally like it.