Issues behind singer’s lyrics become more complex

jim cooper/associated press


Singer-songwriter Norah Jones reveals her many sides on her latest CD.

It’s not as if Norah Jones had never written a song before. On her blockbuster debut, Come Away With Me, the alluring singer penned three tunes, two of which she wrote all on her own. But it was her interpretation of others’ music that really drew listeners — her breakthrough Grammy-winning song, Don’t Know Why, was written by pal Jesse Harris.

Harris returns on Jones’ new CD, Not Too Late — but as a guitar player. There was no need for another lyricist: Jones wrote or co-wrote each track on the 13-song CD, and has become a seasoned songwriter in her own right.

“If you asked me (to describe her) four years ago, I would have said, ‘Great singer-pianist,’ ” Harris said. “Now you can’t really say that she’s just that. She’s a lot of things now. There’s another element that has come in — there’s different sides to her now.”

Jones reveals her many facets on Not Too Late, her most adventurous CD to date. Though she still croons the kind of slow, melodic tunes that turned her into a multiplatinum sensation, the issues behind the songs have become more complex, and in some instances, biting and political.

The album’s first track, Wish I Could, invokes a soldier killed in war; the second assails the captain of a rudderless ship, with allusions to today’s commander-in-chief, U.S. President George W. Bush. While that song is a bit subdued, My Dear Country is defiant and obvious, as she warbles about the past election day: “Who knows maybe it’s all a dream/who knows if I’ll wake up and scream.”

Jones, who turns 28 in March, says the political climate and her own maturation have made her more aware of the world around her — and willing to sing about it.

“The most obviously political song on this album kind of sums it up for me. I really try to see both sides of things, and in the end, there are things I see very clearly. ... Right now for me it’s just hard to not question what’s going on,” she says. “I feel like more people need to be inspired, I feel like we need a flame lit under us right now to find something to hold on to and believe in.”

However, though the politically tinged songs are the most buzzworthy, they do not define the album. Instead, the melancholy disc touches on various aspects of lament, from the status of our world to the troubles of a relationship: Wake Me Up, about a lover’s goodbye, sounds like an old-time country heartbreaker, while Thinking About You, the album’s first single, is a wistful remembrance of a past love.

Jones wrote many of the songs with bassist (and boyfriend) Lee Alexander, who was also the album’s producer; a few, including My Dear Country, she wrote on her own.

Jones’ lack of songwriting on her two previous albums led a few critics to label her as just a song interpreter. But Harris said she always had the ability to write. “She concentrated on being the songwriter this time around,” he said. “Before the first record, she didn’t focus on songwriting as much, and after the first record came out she didn’t have the time.”

  • Jones will appear on Citytv’s BreakfastTelevision tomorrow morning for a Live@BT: Norah Jones special, on which she'll chat with BT co-host Dina Pugliese and perform live at the Bravo! Rehearsal Hall.

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