BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
While Norah Jones will always be associated with Sunday brunch music, listeners who only know her songs as silky, inoffensive backdrops might want to see her live to understand the breadth of her talent.
Her Saturday night show at the Fox Theatre unfolded quietly with a trio of songs – “Tragedy,” “Flipside” and “Burn” -- from her new album, “Day Breaks,” her sixth release that arrived last fall.
Jones isn’t a commanding presence, and her understated playing behind her black baby grand piano paired with her dusky voice led to a somnolent vibe in the opening quarter of the concert.
But between the sunburst of lighting that appeared behind her and four musicians and an incremental increase in tempo, her return to the Fox after nearly five years escalated into a pleasant display of her considerable musicianship.
While Jones, 37, remained behind her primary instrument for her woozy declaration of musical doom, “Sinkin’ Soon” and she and her band imbued Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” with a rootsy pop sensibility reminiscent of Sheryl Crow, Jones had more musical muscles to flex.
She edged across the stage to stand behind a keyboard for the perky “Chasing Pirates,” and, backed by pedal steel guitar, unfurled the hushed “Rosie’s Lullaby.”
In addition to “Pirates,” Jones also revisited her 2009 album, “The Fall,” with “Tell Yer Mama,” which found the singer-songwriter strapping on an electric guitar for the tune which embraces her flirtation with country music.
Jones and her band continued the country rock ride with “Hey You,” before she put down her guitar and returned to her familiar seat for her most familiar song.
A dusting of the snare drum introduced “Don’t Know Why,” which featured a slightly recalibrated delivery of lyrics and a jazzier undercurrent, which is where the song likely resided before being co-opted by adult contemporary radio. Of course, that mass appeal turned Jones into a Grammy-gobbling star, but it was refreshing to hear in more organic form.
Throughout the sold-out show, Jones’ voice glistened; a distinctive instrument capable of the gentle, breathy seduction heard in “Come Away with Me” as well as the stark melancholy in “Little Broken Hearts,” the title track of her 2012 album (produced by Brian Burton/aka Danger Mouse).
While Jones’ newest album spotlights a return to the jazz/soul sounds of her now-classic debut – which, believe it or not just marked its 15th anniversary – her live show celebrates her chameleonic abilities.