• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Norah Jones’s new beginning and return to New Zealand

Norah Jones. Photo/Clay Patrick McBride/Supplied

The jazz songstress is staying inspired by writing with others.

When Norah Jones plays her first shows here in 14 years, she may open with My Heart Is Full, a song off her latest album, Begin Again, a collection of singles recorded in the past year with various collaborators. It’s a startling track that is almost a cappella above a minimalist electronic throb before turning into something resembling psychedelic gospel. It’s a long way from the jazzy comfort zone Jones established on her multimillion-selling, Grammy-harvesting 2002 debut, Come Away with Me. Its lyrics also suggest it’s a song for troubled times.

“I wrote those lyrics in the bathtub without any music,” says Jones of the song she wrote with left-field producer Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman. “And, yeah, it just came out after something awful happened a couple years ago.”

She has performed it as a stark concert opener in the past year, but only when she’s feeling up to it.

“That song is super vulnerable, which makes it a good opener, but if you don’t feel like you’re in the groove, it could be a little scary. But hopefully the audience will be with us.”

And the bathtub?

“That’s the only quiet I get,” she says, with a laugh, from the Brooklyn home that she shares with her husband and two small children.

What the seven Begin Again tracks lack in duration, they make up for in variety, ranging from such stripped-back electronically enhanced songs as My Heart Is Full and Uh Oh to the soul-shaped jazz of It Was You and the title track and country folk co-writes with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on A Song with No Name and Wintertime.

“For now, I’m excited to be doing bits and pieces,” she says of her piecemeal approach. “I love albums, but right now it makes sense to just do it this way. It gives me new material to play and I can still go out and play shows without doing a full album cycle. It’s different when you put out an album – the label expects you to work it,” she says.

“These collaborations are fun, because they’re with people I love, but it’s nice to kind of stop it at three or four days and three or four songs and just live with that for a few months, then move on to something else.

“I want to stay inspired. I don’t want to be a musician who’s playing stuff she doesn’t want to play. And so far, I’m doing it. I’ve been really inspired the last few years playing music and I just hope that continues whether people hear it or like it or not. If it’s still enjoyable to me, that’s the best I can hope for. It’s a pretty cool job, you know?”

Norah Jones plays ASB Theatre, Auckland, on April 23; TSB Arena, Wellington, on April 24; Regent Theatre, Dunedin, on April 26; Queenstown Events Centre on April 28; Christchurch Town Hall on April 29.

This article was first published in the April 27, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.