Norah Jones’ voice is a little raspier than when she first hit the scene in 2001 with Come Away With Me. But it’s to her advantage, a tool in her ever-expanding her range of song stylings. Her new album Begin Again, a compilation of tracks she recorded on the fly over the last couple of years, takes on country and calls-to-arms and adds electronic influences while never forgetting that first and foremost, it is a jazz record.
“My Heart is Full” is an anthem and a pledge with the kind of synthetic flourishes we haven’t heard since 2012’s Little Broken Hearts. Lyrically, it’s not ground that hasn’t been well-trod, especially in recent days, but with a sparse arrangement, it’s certainly not unneeded in the day’s political climate. But it’s one that might get lost in the shuffle, especially when the album has stronger tracks waiting in the wings.
The slick, piano-heavy title track shines light into a lot of great jazzy corners, overshadowing the lyrics that are alternately about a bad relationship and dusted with politics. There are a couple gems, but “Drank to clear my throat/not to eat the words you wrote” is, hands down, the album’s best lyric. It’s a song you want to live inside of, exploring like lost ruins.
“It Was You” and “Wintertime” are both pretty typical cocktail party jazz, nasally and narcotic, pleasant but easy to forget on an album that has such a wide interpretation of the form. “Wintertime” is the stronger of the two, a solid and lovely song, but the semi-R&B feel of “Uh Oh” is a bridge between the classic Jones and the pop garden she’s carefully tending to.
“A Song With No Name” has a lonesome country twang, a throwback to Foreverly, her surprisingly charming collaboration with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Always understated, Jones gives us a wonderfully dark second verse “If I had a gun/if I had a knife/if I had your love/if I was your wife.” It never goes anywhere beyond that, fading out with a starry twinkle and a few sour guitar notes, but as such, it’s never over-sold.
The album is a singles collection and as such, isn’t meant to have a cohesive liner structure. It’s also short, seven lean tracks with no filler, a reminder that Jones has enough talent and self-awareness—those two are rarely in concert with each other—to try her hand at multiple genres without stretching herself too thin. Some takes are better than others, but none of them are ever boring.