Norah Jones knows how to sell an album – more specifically, 50 million of them. But with her newest record Day Breaks, it’s difficult to compare her to the titan she once was.
Fresh from the prestigious jazz program at the University of North Texas, Jones broke out in 2002, shattering expectations with her debut Come Away With Me. That record still stands as some of the best jazz pop the genre has ever seen, but the Texan has fallen off since then, giving into the clichés and typical styles of her genre while somehow managing to maintain decent sales figures.
Fourteen years and four albums later, Jones’ public relations team claims she has struck a balance between the old and the new with her latest album, but in reality, she has created a record that doesn’t work for anyone but dedicated fans.
Day Breaks features Jones’ return to slow and lovely piano-based ballads. It’s certainly a far shout from her previous albums, which centered around guitar chords and accompaniment. Jones’ revived brand revolves around the piano, and Day Breaks feels much more genuine because of this renaissance of sorts.
On the surface, this is a suitable approach, but the marketing for this record went one step further, drawing comparisons to Come Away With Me. Yet a direct connection to Jones’ smash-hit debut is unwarranted beyond a similarity in instrumentation. In moments, Jones flirts with more jazzy influences, most notably on her covers of Horace Silver’s “Peace” and Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower),” but she never gets close enough for this to be a true blast from the past.
Jones’ ever-present signature sound oozes from this project, with songs like “Burn” and “Flipside” demanding attention with impressive vocal performances. One of the most captivating moments on the record comes when Jones covers Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied,” showing her rarely seen darker side.
Yet, when these vocal moments shine through, Jones’ compositions and backing band fail to keep up the momentum and hype. “And Then There Was You” is a perfect example of how Jones may put forth an impressive effort lyrically, but there’s almost nothing going on in the background with the drums or guitars that makes you want to keep listening.
On top of these squandered efforts, the production of Day Breaks is nearly flawless — everything sounds properly mixed and placed in the sound stage. For most albums, this would be a fantastic accomplishment, yet this gives Jones’ album a robotic feeling rather than amplifying the emotional moments. Perfection in music feels absolutely stunning when a song deserves it, but almost none of the cuts on Day Breaks feel flawless. The production needed to add a raw layer to the album, but instead it feels canned and nearly ruins Jones’ lyrical efforts.
By the end of one listen, it’s painfully obvious there’s almost nothing of note to hear on Day Breaks. If you want an album to relax or maybe doze off to, this project is a fantastic candidate. Fans of Norah Jones’ classic recordings will find this album to be a decent compromise between a pop-friendly sound and her legendary thoroughbred jazz, but for non-fans, Day Breaks is just another option for a C-grade Mother’s Day gift.