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The Fall (2009)

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Norah Jones

With The Fall, Norah Jones completes the transition away from her smooth cabaret beginnings and toward a mellowly arty, modern singer/songwriter. Jones began this shift on 2007's Not Too Late, an album that gently rejected her tendencies for lulling, tasteful crooning, but The Fall is a stronger, more cohesive work, maintaining an elegantly dreamy state that's faithful to the crooner of Come Away with Me while feeling decidedly less classicist. Some of this could be attributed to Jones' choice of producer, Jacquire King, best-known for his work with Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon, but King hardly pushes Norah in a rock direction; The Fall does bear some mild echoes of Fiona Apple or Aimee Mann in ballad mode, but its arrangements never call attention to themselves, the way that some Jon O'Brien productions do. Instead, the focus is always on Jones' voice and songs, which are once again all originals, sometimes composed in conjunction with collaborators including her longtime colleagues Jesse Harris, Ryan Adams, and Will Sheff of Okkervil River. In addition to King's pedigree, the latter two co-writers suggest a slight indie bent to Jones' direction, which isn't an inaccurate impression -- there's certainly a late-night N.Y.C. vibe to these songs -- but it's easy to overstate the artiness of The Fall, especially when compared to Not Too Late, which wore its ragged ambitions proudly. Here, Jones ties up loose ends, unafraid to sound smooth or sultry, letting in just enough dissonance and discord to give this dimension, creating a subtle but rather extraordinary low-key record that functions as a piece of mood music but lingers longer, thanks to its finely crafted songs. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine