Norah Jones' voice sounds so effortlessly beautiful that it sometimes overshadows everything in its path.
That's not necessarily a bad problem - especially when you're the singer - but it does make it difficult to get people to pay attention to the song when everything fades in the presence of the singer.
On "The Fall" (Blue Note), Jones took the challenge seriously, taking on a new, more rock-oriented band and crafting songs that can better hold their own with her vocals. The extra effort pays off, with the album's best moments coinciding with her biggest risks.
The playful "Man of the Hour" shows what a difference stronger lyrics can make for Jones, who delivers lines such as " 'It's him or me,' that's what he said, but I can't choose between a vegan and a pothead" with such a delicious flourish that it makes you want more. The funky, pointed "It's Gonna Be" is a pleasant surprise, playing a bit like a Norah-ified version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground."
Even the whimsy single "Chasing Pirates" is a welcome stretch that remains laid-back enough to not scare away Jones' considerable fan base.NORAH JONES
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE Drifting, but in a new direction