Come Away With Norah Jones All Over Again

The New York jazz maven’s classic debut gets a remarkable revisit

Norah Jones Come Away With Me, Blue Note 2002

Some artists seem to emerge fully formed. Maybe it’s because the ability to make music was inherently a part of their genes.

Both those factors applied to Norah Jones, who, just over 20 years ago, made a debut album that took the world by storm, eventually accumulating sales of some 50 millions records and garnering the number one spot at the top of the charts in 20 countries. So too, it accumulated no less than eight Grammys the year it first became eligible, sweeping all the major categories (including Best New Artist, Song of the Year and Record of the Year), while tying the record for most Grammy Awards ever received by a female artist in a single night. 

Those accomplishments were especially stunning considering the fact that the album didn’t necessarily fit any pre-conceived parameters and the fact that she was a total unknown, which, in turn, created little, if any, actual expectation. In essence, Come Away With Me consisted of cocktail lounge jazz imbedded with a decided nocturnal feel, and, as a result, it found a good home on Blue Note Records, long known as the birthplace of several influential jazz albums in the decades since its founding in 1939.

Norah Jones 2002 Publicity Photo (Image: Blue Note)

No doubt hoping to cash in on contemporary trends, the label saw the sense in signing a fledgling singer-songwriter well equipped to garner mass appeal, even though they also knew it would be something of a blind bet as well.

That said, Jones came from good musical stock. Her father, Ravi Shankar, was one of the most revered individuals both in world music circles and well beyond. Nevertheless, her signing had more to do with a three song publishing demo given to a pair of top label executives who, in turn, opted to offer her a contract without knowing quite how to categorize her sound. She seemed equally adept at singing standards, interpreting country classics and occasionally indulging in some folk finesse, all while sharing a breathy vocal that all but ensured immediate enchantment. 


VIDEO: Norah Jones “Come Away With Me”

Naturally, the title tune, which Jones composed, and the track that was destined for the album’s third single, “Come Away With Me,” written by Jesse Harris, provided the immediate allure, but the inclusion of such classics as Hank William’s downtrodden “Cold Cold Heart,” John D. Loudermilk’s sultry “Turn Me On,” and an assured and sophisticated version of “The Nearness of You” ensured ample additives as well. Likewise, an impressive cast of support musicians — Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Tony Scherr, Kevin Breit and Adam Levy, among them — gave the album its supple textures and seductive sheen, while renowned producer Arif Mardin did an outstanding job of overseeing it all.

Of course, a 20 year milestone always carries special significance, and in this case, Blue Note is all too eager to capitalize on that fact. A three CD and four LP box set offers a remastered version of the original album, complete with expanded liner notes, unseen photos and extra discs containing all the demos Jones recorded for the label plus the original unheard version of the album, now referred to as The Allaire Sessions in honor of the studio where it was recorded.


VIDEO: Norah Jones “Don’t Know Why”

Consisting mainly of early versions of the tracks that would turn up later on the fully realized Come Away With Me LP, these extra offerings show Jones in a seminal state, staking the earthy, unimpeded posture she’d perfect later on. The arrangements are slimmed down so as to showcase her vocals and piano, but in essence, the tone and texture would remain intact as far as the final version. Consequently, despite the fact that these were early attempts, there’s no discernible difference between these initial outings and the album fans found later. 

Completists will covet the unheard music, but will likely find little in the way of revelations or anything unexpected. Still, a further invitation to come away may be well worth additional indulgence. 



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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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