Norah Jones has only really been around for five years, but a more lauded singer-songwriter you would struggle to find. Two exquisite solo releases in Come Away With Me and Feels Like Home, plus The Little Willies project, have built the 27-year-old a considerable fan base to which she would have to do something very drastic for them to turn against her.
Not Too Late features no such gear change, merely a gentle progression of an already worldly and very distinguishable sound. The album’s opening number, the soothing Wish I Could, reinstates the old-style Texas country ballad feel with which the singer has become synonymous. Featuring the softly-bowed cello of Jeff Ziegler, this a suitably lulling introduction to an album that may be best enjoyed when lying alone in the dark. Jones’ voice invariably weaves its spell into the fibre of her music, presenting an almost irresistible sonic quality to proceedings.
This gentle feel is, however, not maintained throughout the work. Following track Sinkin’ Soon has a dirty cabaret feel in the style of Tom Waits – a longtime favourite of Jones. A far more textured affair, this track bumps and grinds with real dynamism at times, yet never quite loses that lounge jazz feel. The Sun Doesn’t Like You provides the first real singalong moment of the album, with the infectious chorus “Time won’t pass us by and I won’t tell you lies” sitting beautifully atop swiftly-plucked acoustic guitar rhythms.
Jones provides another soaring chorus in the otherwise plain Until The End, before the achingly sweet Not My Friend presents itself as an album highlight. The twinkling of a piano in the background of this track adds a child-like quality, which may be in keeping with the simplistic chorus “You are not my friend, I cannot pretend that you are”. Things turn more soulful with Thinking About You, which is simply a lovely pop song. The presence of a Hammond organ is a wonderful throwback to 1970s gospel, and again this is in keeping with Jones’ lyrical content, which here appears overtly nostalgic.
The quality of Jones’ voice then takes centre stage through her multi-tracked, beautifully harmonised vocal in Broken. This otherwise uninspiring song is lifted from the mundane purely by the quality of its singer, and this ultimately is the reason why Norah Jones has succeeded with such rapidity. This is again the focal point in My Dear Country, a song of wonderfully hypnotic force. Taking a seemingly political stance, Jones has an uplifting message towards America in this piano ballad, singing “I love the things that you’ve given me, and most of all that I am free to have a song that I can sing on election day”. Cheery indeed.
The ballads keep flowing, with a wonderful pinnacle being reached with Rosie’s Lullaby. The brooding sound of the slide guitar stirs up a warm, dream-like quality, which is only enhanced by the harmonising between Jones and backing vocalist Daru Oda. The track rocks back and forth with such mellow brilliance, that you will be lucky to stay awake for the final, title track. Those who manage will be in for a treat.
The closing moments of the album, in keeping with Jones’ finest work, is stripped-down, simple and expertly delivered. A chorus of “It’s not too late for love” would seem tacky to some, but somehow the singer manages to legitimise every innocent turn of phrase that comes from her mouth. This collection of quaint, feel-good numbers is not going to set the world alight, but it offers something warm and comforting to come home to.