Between her spirited collection of country tunes with The Little Willies, her appearance on Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom art-pop project, and her occasional forays into mall punk with El Madmo, Norah Jones has given more than just an offhand indication that she’s ready to break out of her Starbucks niche. Her third album, Not Too Late, may not be a radical departure, but it’s an album that showcases her growing confidence as a songwriter and an arranger, and some subtle tweaks to her trademark formula make it her most diverse collection. The ragtimey piano line on “Sinkin’ Soon” combines with bursts of muted trombone, making for a song that’s as feisty as anything in Jones’ solo catalogue. Lead single “Thinkin’ About You” uses a Hammond organ to good effect—too many performers and producers automatically equate the instrument with “soul,” but here its warmth matches Jones’ sultry vocals—but “Be My Somebody” one-ups it, making for a sexy slow-burner. “My Dear Country” finds Jones casting a bit of light political protest (“But fear’s the only thing I saw/And three days later was clear to all/That nothing is as scary as election day”) in the context of a letter to a former flame. It’s not exactly subversive, but it works, and it gives Jones something more to do with that indisputably lovely voice of hers. Not Too Late may not be the break from form that Jones is capable of, but it’s an album that takes enough chances to suggest that she’s started down that path.
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