In Re­view: No­rah Jones’s ‘Day Breaks’



There’s some­thing dan­ger­ous about stel­lar de­but al­bums. When an artist re­leases a first record with the kind of overnight cul­tural and crit­i­cal im­pact that No­rah Jones’s “Come Away with Me” had in 2002, it sets a seem­ingly un­achiev­able bar. Some spend their ca­reers try­ing to repli­cate that ini­tial suc­cess; oth­ers try to avoid it al­to­gether.

Jones found a mid­dle ground and mostly sidestepped that trap. She’s re­leased four al­bums since “Come Away with Me,” and her quote-un­quote least suc­cess­ful one, 2009’s “The Fall,” still peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. charts. In all, she’s sold well over 50 mil­lion al­bums.

On Fri­day, she’ll re­lease her sixth stu­dio ef­fort, and all in­di­ca­tions point to another com­mer­cial suc­cess. “Day Breaks” plays through in a sim­i­lar way to “Come Away with Me” — in fact, Jones said in a state­ment that she again felt most in­spired to write on the pi­ano where be­fore she pri­mar­ily chose the gui­tar — but it lacks the type of power the lat­ter had.

There’s noth­ing re­ally wrong with “Day Breaks.” Jones’s voice sounds as smooth and hyp­no­tiz­ing as it ever has, though maybe fuller now, less bright, and the songs flow to­gether like pages in the same jazz hand­book (Neil Young, Ho­race Sil­ver and Duke Elling­ton cov­ers in­cluded). But the whole thing’s a pretty av­er­age ef­fort from one of the pre­em­i­nent jazz artists of a gen­er­a­tion — an ef­fort that’s un­likely to stick with a lis­tener long af­ter lis­ten­ing.

Some­how, “Day Breaks” feels edge­less. It’s re­mark­ably pol­ished, and pos­si­bly de­serv­ing of award con­sid­er­a­tion be­cause of it, but the long­ing that char­ac­ter­ized Jones’s voice 15 years ago, which made her so ac­ces­si­ble to fans both young and old, just isn’t there any­more. She packs her punches with less tragedy now. Those who were in their 20s when Jones first shot up the charts, and who have grown into mar­riage and par­ent­hood in a sim­i­lar way (Jones is now married with two chil­dren), may find more in com­mon in 2016. For a younger group, not so much.

Of course, the al­bum does have no­table high­lights. “Carry On,” for which Jones re­leased a mu­sic video in Au­gust, is a fan­tas­tic, twin­kling pop song that shows glimpses of her at her strong­est.

She sings: “And now that all’s been said and done — / Who said it best, were you the one? / Let’s just for­get, leave it be­hind / And carry on.”

The first song, “Burn,” “It’s a Won­der­ful Time for Love” and “Sleep­ing Wild” show­case a more mis­chievous mi­nor-keyed Jones, but they don’t lead to any grand re­lease. Then, on the light-hearted and quench­ing “Once I Had a Laugh,” she seems to open up to an ac­knowl­edge­ment of past selves long gone, how­ever briefly. You have to won­der how dif­fer­ent the al­bum would have been had she writ­ten more thor­oughly in that vein, and not touted “Day Breaks” as a “full cir­cle” re­turn to what made her early record­ings so spe­cial.

“Once I had a laugh,” she sings on that song. “And now I’m older, / But I will not for­get.”

Ver­dict: 3 out of 5

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