A Christmas album by Norah Jones? At first I thought it doesn’t really suit Norah because even though she released some very pop-friendly vocal jazz albums in her earlier phase, she then drifted off to more alternative and folk/jazz oeuvres which I think is much more Norah than the easy-to-the-ear stuff like “Don’t Know Why” which has become sort of a classic piece now. But then again, Christmas as a universal topic puts everything in perspective. After all, there are also Christmas albums coming up from José James and Ibrahim Maalouf.
So when I realized that Leon Michels of El Michels Affair is the producer of Norah’s first Christmas set, I thought well that should work out pretty cool. And it does. Originals like “Christmas Glow”, one of six pieces she wrote or co-wrote withe Leon, really adds a fresh spin to the festive season. And with musicians like Brian Blade on drums, Dave Guy on trumpet, Leon on sax, flute, and percussion, together with pedal steel guitar, cello, trombone, and cool backing vocals, you can be sure that this is not your usual Xmas fodder.
And she also manages to come up with innovative arrangements of the classics: “White Christmas” for example has a swaggering swing underneath, with Norah charmingly schlepping her notes in elongating fashion. She has the ability to play around on individual words like “write” when she sings “with every Christmas card I write” with her sympathetic vibrato. Highlights include the grooving “Run Rudolph Run”, coming along with a shuffling beat. The Johnny Marks/Marvin Brodie tune gets a sweltering facelift.
She handles “Christmas Don’t Be Late” in Puppini Sisters fashion. Hilariously nostalgic. There is a rather charmless original (“Christmastime”) and she comes up with a pretty solid, conservative “Blue Christmas”. I like her childlike, easy and simple “It’s Only Christmas Once A Year”. “You’re Not Alone” is one of her typical blues-drenched country/folk ballads, including some great harmony backup vocals. “A Holiday With You” is a beautiful love song with an abrupt ending. Overall a nice surprise.