There’s something uniquely appealing about a pissed off good girl. “I’m not the jealous type/ Never been the killing kind/ But you know I know what you did/ So don’t put up a fight,” sings Norah Jones on the atmospheric slow-burn revenge fantasy “Miriam,” off her new album Little Broken Hearts. Longtime Jones fans expecting more carpool jazz should have known from looking at the album cover something was different this time. The tight closeup of Jones’ face, her eyebrows dark and arched, her lips vixen red was inspired by the art in producer Brian Burton aka Dangermouse’s studio.
“Brian has this great collection of Russ Meyer posters in his studio,” she said in a statement when the cover was released. “This particular one, called Mudhoney, was right over the couch where I sat every day. I always was looking at it and thinking ‘That’s so cool I want to look like her!’” Russ Meyer became famous in Hollywood in the 1960s for making sexploitation films (like his magnum opus Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) that transformed wholesome Midwestern milk-maid types into debauched sex fiends. So it’s fitting that his images would help the queen of demure American pop put a face on her post-breakup rage.
There’s always been an interesting disparity between Jones’ sound/audience and her persona. She’s classy — the daughter of revered sitar player Ravi Shankar, her 2002 debut Come Away With Me won a bazillion Grammys and gave the Gap and doctor’s offices something good to play for a change. But she’s also got a dark side. I remember even back in the early 2000s, then grimy rock party boy Ryan Adams confessing to a journalist friend that he loved Come Away With Me and hoped that didn’t make him an insufferable yuppie. There’s a delectable edge hinted at beneath all the pleasantly rounded notes on that record. Over the years Jones has continued to release palatable non-boat rocking (but uniformly excellent) records but she’s also cultivated a place for herself in the New York City rock underground. She’s regular featured guest at the Dylan Fest events hosted every May by the Cabin Down Below band, a collective of rockers associated with The Cabin bar on East 7th street that features a rotating cast of the City’s coolest rock kids: assorted Strokes, Kings of Leon, Vampire Weekenders and members of the SNL cast.
Watch the video for “Happy Pills” here:
With all of this in mind I showed up at Jones’ recent Summerstage gig. I was expecting a collision of Old Norah and New, and I was not disappointed. Jones fans had gathered early, with all the right outdoor show-going accoutrement (well-made picnic blankets and slickers in case of rain) and were spread out in the fading summer light eating things like Greek salad and drinking organic pinot noir. Elegant origami birds and lanterns decorated the backlit stage as the singer appeared, in a sundress and cowboy boots, and began. A few songs in she played “Say Goodbye,” the trance-like, totally haunting track off the new record. A bro in a plaid shirt and Top Siders who’d been looking dubious about this whole experience turned to his buddy and said, “Yeah, see, I like her new album. I can listen to it without feeling like a girl.” Of course, I’d argue that in its noir-ish rage Little Broken Hearts is maybe the girliest album she’s ever made, but whatever it takes, dude.