Norah Jones explains songs on her new album

February 10, 2004|By Robert Hilburn | Robert Hilburn,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - By the time of last year's five-trophy haul at the Grammy Awards, Norah Jones' album Come Away With Me was already on its way to blockbuster status with songs that brought a touch of emotional honesty and restraint to a pop scene that has long felt manufactured and shallow. Sales to date: nearly 8 million in the United States, 17 million worldwide.

The awards - including best new artist and album of the year - started immediate speculation about whether the jazz-influenced pop singer could live up to the expectations.

"The record industry has gotten so into image that image becomes more important than the singer," Jones said before the Grammys last year (for a full list of winners, photos and news from this year's Grammy Awards, held Sunday night, go to www.baltimoresun.com/grammys). In an interview on the eve of today's release of Feels Like Home, her second album, Jones, 24, spoke about maintaining creative and emotional balance amid overwhelming success.

How difficult was it dealing with the pressure that must have grown out of the Grammy wins and the other success?

I felt some pressure, but mostly because people kept asking me all year if I felt pressure [laughs]. If no one had asked, I probably wouldn't have felt any at all, which I know sounds odd because everyone complains about pressure so much in this business.

The worst thing would be to make another record that sells but you don't feel good about it, because you have to spend the next two years living with it on stage and the radio.

What was your game plan for the new album?

I approached it the same as the first. My one thought was I wanted to record all the originals we had from me and Lee [bassist Lee Alexander] and the rest of the band, then see what might be missing musically - pick some covers to fill voids in the album. That was also my plan on the first album, but it hasn't come together that way either time. We end up just recording the covers we like and those songs determine the album's tone.

There were some wonderful cover songs in the live show last summer, including the Band's "It Makes No Difference" and John Prine's "That's the Way the World Goes 'Round." Why weren't they on the album?

I think "It Makes No Difference" is one of the best songs I've ever heard. I don't know why we didn't record it. Maybe it's just that we stopped doing it live and it just wasn't on our mind when we went into the studio. But I also like to keep some songs just for concerts so they are a treat at the shows, not something that you hear all the time on the record. But I have recorded the John Prine song with another band of mine - a country band we have.

How did you find the Tom Waits song "Long Way Home" for the album?

That really was a surprise. I met him backstage at a show he was doing in New York and I was soooo excited to meet him because I love his records. ... The first thing Tom said was did I get the songs he sent me. Tom said he heard I was looking for songs for the next album. And I hadn't. I had just got back from touring. I called my manager the next day and he had them. It was quite an honor. Now I'm scared to death.

You're nervous about what he'll think?

Yes. I realize I haven't [recorded] covers of too many songwriters who are living ... and it's probably because I'd be too nervous about what they thought of my version. But I recorded "Long Way Home" because I love the words. They are so sweet. Even with his gruff voice on it, you want to go, "Ahhhh, how sweet," when he sings, "Come with me and we can take the long way home."

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