By Joseph Brannigan Lynch
October 12, 2009 at 06:04 PM EDT

Grammy-hoarding jazz-pop chanteuse Norah Jones released the lead single from her upcoming album The Fall today, and the song—“Chasing Pirates”—is a bluesy surprise and welcome change of pace.

The song finds Jones distancing herself from the doctor’s-office waiting-room and venturing into darker waters. Backing her on this quest are an odd collection of musicians who give her music some long-absent backbone: Beck/R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker—who recently joined Thom Yorke’s as-yet-unnamed band—plays on The Fall and gives “Chasing Pirates” a backbeat detached enough to suit Jones but tense enough to make the song interesting:

Many of the other musicians on board here worked on Tom WaitsMule Variations, but lite-rock radio programmers need not panic. Jones voice remains as subdued and lovely as ever—the difference here is she sounds more interested in her material than she has in a while. The bluesy bass guitar and keyboard riff on “Chasing Pirates” are fascinating counterparts to her breathy-soul vocals, and she responds to the fresh direction with an engaged, almost sassy performance.

“Chasing Pirates” certainly glides by, but it still has enough blues-rock muscle to make it more than just another sleepwalking ballad. What do you think, Norah fans?

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