Having been billed as Norah Jones’s “guitar album,” The Fall comes burdened with some expectations that the vocalist has shaken up her trademark formula of tasteful piano arrangements, light percussion, and effortless vocal turns. The album only intermittently works as a departure for Jones, then, because the lone signature element of her style that has changed is the lead instrument she uses. The piano licks are scarce, replaced by some electric guitar riffs that are clean and restrained. Producer Jacquire King simply doesn’t bring any of the raw, nervy energy to The Fall that he has brought to albums by Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon: The album is about as edgy as recent albums by Aimee Mann and Rosanne Cash. That’s certainly not bad company for Jones to be in, and King does play to Jones’s strengths by keeping the album focused on her exquisite singing. Jones is at her sultry best on slow-burning lead single “Chasing Pirates” and shows a bit of grit on “Stuck,” a co-write with Okkervil River’s Will Sheff. Less successful are her collaborations with Jesse Harris on the inert “Even Though” and Ryan Adams on “Light as a Feather,” which feel phoned in. Following Not Too Late, a more nakedly ambitious effort, and her terrific side project with the Little Willies, it’s disappointing that The Fall aims for growth but feels so reigned in and restrained.
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