This reviewer first recognized that Norah Jones’ new effort is a complete departure from her previous album during the chorus of the fourth song in the rotation: “Carnival Town”:
Is it lonely?
My shock came not from the words — new to Jones’ quiver — but the way she lingers over them. Her range and skill have improved since the release of Come Away With Me, and the seasoning shows. This Norah is able to call forth a much greater emotional response than the girl on display only two years ago. You simply feel the loneliness seep in.
Of course, this shift might not be good for record sales. Come Away With Me sold 18 million copies and the title track received heavy rotation on radio stations. She emerged from the shadow of her father, famed sitar player Ravi Shankar, as a jazz/blues musician with a light but pleasant touch. Even the more bluesy songs on the album (i.e., “Cold, Cold Heart”) were delivered with a grin.
Her freshman album was hopeful, well produced, and lusty. In the most frankly erotic song of the set, Jones begs a suitor to “come on home and turn me on.” Quite a few of the numbers have her hoping, waiting, anticipating that she will be able to hook up with a certain someone. One critic called it music to make out to.
IN THAT VEIN, we might call Feels Like Home music to break up by. Anticipation has been displaced by uncertainty and regret. “Carnival Town” begins with the Merry-Go-Round as a metaphor for modern life: We whirl around in a hurry and ultimately get nowhere. This circularity surfaces again in “Above Ground” in the form of a ceiling fan which interrupts Jones’ burdened thoughts.
Some reviewers have noted that this album has a bit more twang than Come Away With Me, and they have a point. Feels Like Home has many standard features of a country album. To underscore this, “Creepin’ In” features vocals by Dolly Parton. Not to denigrate the mixing of genres or anything, but I find it odd that Jones felt it necessary to incorporate country in order to sing the blues.
The results of this mixing aren’t all bad, however. “Humble Me” has a distinct country flavor to it and it’s also the best song on the album. Jones takes on the persona of a woman stuck at the side of the road (“stranded at the outskirts and the sun’s creepin’ up”), with a child to fend for, praying to God for forgiveness and wondering how exactly she ended up so far from home.
“What do you say/ When it’s all gone away?” the narrator muses. The answer that Feels Like Home suggests is, goodbye.