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Exclusive First Listen: Norah Jones

After <em>Feels Like Home</em> and <em>Not Too Late,</em> Norah Jones' <em>The Fall</em> is a step in the right direction.
After Feels Like Home and Not Too Late, Norah Jones' The Fall is a step in the right direction.

It's best to disregard much of the pre-release attention surrounding Norah Jones' new album, The Fall.

Yes, the album was recorded with a new band of well-known session musicians. Drummer Joey Waronker has worked with Beck and R.E.M. Guitarists Marc Ribot and Smokey Hormel have performed on records by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer. Keyboardist James Poyser has contributed to records by Erykah Badu, Al Green and Common, and is a member of The Roots' house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Legendary R&B drummer James Gadson — who's performed on studio sessions with Bill Withers, Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock — lends additional work.

Yes, she chose a new producer in Jacquire King, who'd previously worked with Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse and Tom Waits.

Yes, she enlisted new co-writers such as Ryan Adams and Okkervil River's Will Sheff, while continuing to work with her frequent co-conspirator, Jesse Harris.

The Fall isn't a major change for Norah Jones, so much as it represents an evolution toward a new sound altogether. Jones has gone on record as saying she wanted to revamp her music, but The Fall is by no means her "rock" album. Fans of her previous work won't be disappointed: She pushes toward her new direction gently and subtly rather than plowing into it.

On The Fall, Jones maintains her jazzy, sultry sound while pushing into more contemporary pop territory. "Chasing Pirates," "Even Though" and "It's Gonna Be" (the album's most rock-oriented song) are excellent examples of her new approach. But she doesn't abandon the old one completely: "Back to Manhattan" may be her loveliest song since "Come Away With Me," while "Man of the Hour" is set to a bluesy shuffle and "December" possesses a lullaby-like quality.

A warm, organic-sounding record, The Fall showcases Jones' musical depth in exciting and unexpected ways, suitable for old fans and newcomers alike. Please leave your opinions of the album in the comments section below.

Copyright 2009 XPN

Bruce Warren is assistant general manager for programming of WXPN in Philadelphia. Besides serving as executive producer of World Café, Warren also contributes to Paste magazine and writes for two blogs: Some Velvet Blog and WXPN's All About The Music Blog.