Feels Like Home (Blue Note)
Comfy and cozy but never challenging, Feels Like Home is the perfect title for Norah Jones’s new CD. The instrumentation is a tasteful, bland brand of post-bop (soloing so unremarkable it seems as if it were scored as background music), the production dull in its impeccable clarity (you can hear the brushes licking the snare drum). And then there is Jones herself, a singer who is maudlin but never bluesy, scratchy-voiced but somehow never husky. Like her music, every moment of Jones’s singing feels gauged toward familiarity. Listening to Feels Like Home, I began hoping for a single discordant note, an off-kilter sound that I imagined would have an atomic effect on this most restrained of vocalists. That note never came, of course, and this is why her fans adore her: Jones is like one of those knee-length sweaters people wrap around themselves in coffee commercials. But I doubt that even her core audience will be satisfied with Feels Like Home. There are songwriting clichés around every corner: In “Don’t Miss You At All,” Jones pensively watches the snow fall, while in “Carnival Town” she serves up a ride on a Ferris wheel as a metaphor for looking down on the world and feeling alienated. Only “Humble Me” comes close to expressing any real sense of dissatisfaction. In the song, Jones confesses that she’s humiliated herself in a bad relationship, so by its conclusion I was expecting a great kiss-off. Instead, she meekly sings “please please forgive.” Endlessly pleasing (or trying to please), Feels Like Home dilutes even Jones’s brand of comfort-food jazz, grinding it down to something like a chewy gob of baby food.