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Norah, keep your fingers Crossed

Newcomer Norah Jones has been anointed pop music royalty after winning all five major Grammy awards for which she was nominated.

Her record-setting rise to the top was as unlikely as it was meteoric: Come Away With Me, Jones’ debut album, is a mellow collection of country-tinged jazz-pop: sophisticated, melodic, immaculately produced, and very adult.

What a coincidence. The last new artist to dominate the Grammys so definitively by taking the prestigious categories of album and record of the year (plus three others) was Christopher Cross — whose eponymous 1980 debut was sophisticated, melodic, immaculately produced, and adult.

Sailing, anyone' That’s the tune that won record and song of the year. But the pleasure cruise didn’t last long for Cross. He followed his Grammy sweep with an Oscar for Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) and the soap opera leitmotif Think of Laura, then promptly disappeared from the Top 40.

So should Jones be quaking in her lace-up stiletto sandals'

Hardly. Let’s be blunt: She’s lovely to look at, which like it or not matters and will give her an edge when it comes to lasting past next fall. The video for her hit single, Don’t Know Why, frames Jones’ dark beauty against a desert landscape. Her audience may be decades older than the typical video fan, but everyone likes to watch.

Cross was plump and pasty; he himself gingerly connects the decline of his career to the advent of MTV. “No amount of quick cuts, exotic locations, or writhing chorines,” he writes on his website, “would disguise the fact that, on the outside, Christopher Cross was just a regular guy.”

Like Jones, Cross was a soft-rock craftsman with a rich sense of melody and a knack for tight construction. But where Cross had a deadly soft spot for sentimentality, Jones favours a simpler sweetness. Don’t Know Why, a spare, elegant piano ballad, is “wonderfully addictive and extraordinarily likeable”, according to Chris Herrmann, programme director at the adult-alternative station WBOS. “The song is like a respite.”

Several million people agreed; the album has been certified quadruple platinum.

Fred Taylor, longtime Boston jazz impresario, who was instrumental in launching the careers of Diana Krall and Jane Monheit, predicts a bright future for Jones — despite the unique pressures of the commercial mainstream.

“It’s tough to come off of a monstrous first record,” says Taylor. “It’s almost like a curse. What do you do for an encore' But I know when I hear something good, and Norah has a definitive sound and enough musical talent to have a long career.”

Still, the only thing the pop machine loves more than a winner is a new winner, and for a moment it seemed the backlash was beginning before Jones had returned home from the after-parties.

On Monday morning, an FM channel morning host, Ralphie, referred to the newly minted star as “Snorah”.

“The song is so huge, but it is so slow,” says Ralphie. “It’s a term of endearment. We love Norah Jones. This girl’s going to be around for a while. But she’ll always be Snorah to us.”

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