NEW ALBUM / IN THIS (PANDEMIC) TIME
Norah Jones’ New Album plus her Solo Concerts from Home During the Pandemic CONTENTS
IN THIS (PANDEMIC) TIME is a Kurated series informed by COVID-19.
Art will find a way.
PICKING HERSELF UP OFF THE FLOOR
Insightful and touching new music from Norah Jones
During the pandemic lockdown, Norah Jones has been a welcome and regular musical presence over here. One that I’ve been sharing alongside her 400 thousand other YouTube channel subscribers. The singer-songwriter’s many self isolation concerts are relaxed and low key. Her smokey vocals and smart lyrics address fear and loneliness; joy and ease. She’s been taking requests from her mom and other listeners; she sings Happy Birthday to Willie Nelson.
The solo shows from her home music room reveal a warm, unpretentious performer who’s been finding her way through the COVID crisis doing what she knows and loves best: playing music and sharing her extensive repertoire of originals, written over the last 20 years, plus an array of covers.
Like so many artists, her latest album’s release was delayed and an extensive tour shelved. The 11-song collection – Pick Me Up Off the Floor – came out yesterday. To mark the event she shared a video for one of the tracks, the bluesy To Live, featuring band members performing from their respective homes.
An Assured and Respected Singer
Born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar, she was 23 when her 2002 debut, Come Away With Me, was released. Winning five Grammy Awards, it became one of the best-selling albums ever with 27 million copies sold. Now 41, the daughter of late sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar is an assured singer-songwriter and performer. She works in a variety of genres with the top players in popular music.
The new album was pulled together from various songs left off previous collections. It includes I’m Alive – cowritten with Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy – and also features the superb drumming of longtime collaborator Brian Blade on six tracks.
As on Jones’ more recent work, her insightful lyrics probe and illuminate. Here’s a short sample from How I Weep:
And I stand there and wonder when will I be free
Then I realized I held it, it never held me
It had to hurt me to finally be gone
‘Cause I made the mistake of dragging it on
And I wonder what kind of person am I
Who weeps for a loss but can’t tell it goodbye.
(Scroll down to see the full lyrics.)
Pick Me Up Off the Floor follows last year’s 7-song Begin Again package featuring collaborations with a range of musicians released as singles during 2018. Lately, Jones says she is experiencing an artistic high point especially with this new recording: “I don’t know if I was just in a zone or if this process turned it on, but I’ve felt more creative in the last year than I ever have.”
13 June 2020
PICK ME UP OFF THE FLOOR
The shape may seem familiar, but the construction of the songs and inventiveness of the performance keeps it fresh
Once she came to the end of the promotional cycle for 2016’s Day Breaks, Norah Jones decided to challenge herself by recording a series of swift sessions with a rotating cast of collaborators. The intention was to release the results quickly, issuing them as a digital single at a time, and Jones followed through on this plan, releasing a new song every few months throughout 2018.
These tunes were rounded up on 2019’s Begin Again, but that wasn’t the end of the project. Jones cut a number of songs during these sessions that were unreleased but not forgotten by the singer/songwriter. She kept listening to the rough mixes, eventually coming to the conclusion that these tracks would make a strong album of their own accord.
Pick Me Up Off the Floor proves her instincts were correct. Lacking the purposeful digressions of Begin Again – an album where the digressions were the entire point – Pick Me Up Off the Floor is a tighter affair than its companion record, firmly rooted in the after-hours jazz-folk-pop hybrid that’s Jones’ calling card.
Some of the cohesion may be due to how a good chunk of the album is anchored by her standby drummer Brian Blade, but it’s also true that this record’s collaboration with Jeff Tweedy is the amiably rambling “I’m Alive,” a number that is firmly stationed within Jones’ wheelhouse.
The same could be said about Pick Me Up Off the Floor in general. There are accents and flourishes that distinguish the tunes – “Flame Twin” is charged by curlicues of guitars and smears of organ, “To Live” is graced by muted horns straight out of the Big Easy – but as a collection of songs, Pick Me Up Off the Floor winds up emphasizing how Jones slyly and elegantly synthesizes a pop sensibility with a jazz execution, a fusion that is comforting yet relies on her idiosyncratic twists.
This blend of warmth and invention is what’s so appealing about Pick Me Up Off the Floor: the shape may seem familiar, but the construction of the songs and the inventiveness of the performance keeps it fresh and surprising even after the first listen.
PICK ME UP OFF THE FLOOR
Whether singing about existential dread, finding hope in darkness or the pain of heartbreak, Jones gracefully translates those feelings into intimate moments of personal action and emotion
Some may know Norah Jones exclusively as the immaculately voiced writer of loungey, jazz-inflected tunes perfect for rainy afternoons. Others who have followed her discography since those passionate and endearing early ‘00s gems have seen massive swings intended to redefine and expand her palette. She leaned into cinematic rock with Danger Mouse on “Little Broken Hearts,” started a country band with Puss ‘N Boots and featured on an Outkast track. Many lauded 2016’s “Day Breaks” as a return to her piano jazz core.
Now, on her seventh LP. “Pick Me Up Off the Floor,” Jones clears away the weight of genre signposts and disentangles her process to affirm twin strengths: her sterling voice and empathic songwriting. Whether singing about existential dread, finding hope in darkness or the pain of heartbreak, Jones gracefully translates those feelings into intimate moments of personal action and emotion. The album’s title even reckons with that dual strength, laid out and calling out for someone to lend a hand. A variety of discomforts put Jones down, but the process of rendering them in song is an act of uplift.
Rather than set out to record an album, Jones initially cobbled together a series of studio sessions as one-offs, expecting to come away with a few songs to round out the 2019 singles collection “Begin Again.” Even after releasing those songs, however, she found herself sitting with a surplus of material. It’s incredibly rare for “leftovers” to comprise a cohesive album, but “Pick Me Up Off the Floor” does just that.
Though stretching its borders from stormcloud blues to orchestral jazz pop to lithe Motown, the album is tied together by Jones’ ineffable ability to convey big emotions with simplicity. “How I weep, and I sleep, and I march, and I dance … but inside, inside I weep,” she pours out on the album’s opener. As the track ends, Jones’ heart is caught behind in brambles, the loss felt deeply, though the minimalist lyrics only hint at the story. Musically, the song counterbalances the existential weight with an evocative string arrangement from Paul Wiancko, curls of violin like birds darting through the sky, viola dropping like rain on growing flowers.
When daily life in modern America feels compounded by an endless array of issues and calls for hope, Jones’ songs pare away details to let the big moments speak for themselves. Walking the fine line between vague and blunt can be tricky, and “Pick Me Up Off the Floor” keeps itself squarely on the latter. Her lyrics aren’t refined and toiled over, but instead cut straight to the core, as if written directly after each painful moment. Album highlight “Heartbroken, Day After” sells both the angst and the yearning within words of each other. “Heartbroken, day after, our world is wasting away,” she offers, only to rebut herself, as if responding to the tears of the listener. “Oh hey, hey, it’s gonna be okay my little one / I promise we’ll find our way.” As angelic pedal steel guitar and backing vocals blur into a radiant corona, Jones’ voice boosts into another range: “Find a way out!” she calls, bursting out of the gloom.
It’s tempting to align that song and others under a banner of protest or response to the Trump presidency. “I’m Alive” is as simple and direct a statement of hope as many are capable of in this moment. Co-written by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, the song uses a nameless “she” as a stand-in for Jones herself and women around the world. “She’s crushed by thoughts at night of men / Who want her rights / And usually win / But she’s alive,” Jones exhales, the trademark smoke in her voice weaving through muscly piano, Tweedy’s choppy acoustic guitar and his son Spencer’s nimble drumming. “He screams, he shouts / The heads on the TV bow / They take the bait / They mirror waves of hate,” Jones adds — a straightforward yet no less affecting summation of the last few years in American politics.
Elsewhere, “To Live” digs into more oppression, but aches to break through. “To live in this moment and finally be free / Is what I was after, no chains holding me,” she sings over the gospel-tinted, horn-laden track. And though the solution to her pain may seem easy — love, right there in front of Jones’ face — there’s a revelatory power to the sway, and comfort in the conviction.
Other experiments leave behind the political sphere to push into more personal territory, though again leaving room for listeners to feel every word without the weight of distance or minutiae. “Flame Twin” slinks and burns like a breakup funk track, and “Heaven Above” (another Tweedy collaboration) rides Jones’ lithe piano and lapping waves of guitar into the sunset, looking up at the sky for signs of a lost love.
While it may not be soundtracking any marches or precisely match any singular breakup, Jones’ latest captures big-picture feelings of anxiety, fear, loss and hope. “Pick Me Up Off the Floor” is a cohesive journey reflecting both tragically and sweetly on the amorphous cloud of heartache that lingers in these moments of pain, offering a hand to help us out of the fog.
LYRICS How I Weep Norah Jones How I How I Weep for the loss And it creeps down my chin For the heart and the hair And the skin and the air That swirls itself around the bare How I weep How I weep How I weep and I sleep And I march and I dance And I sing and I laugh And I laugh and I laugh But inside But inside Inside I weep Inside I weep And I weep for a loss That's so deep That it hardens and turns into stone There it stays And rolls through bones Till they crumble And the earth doesn't spin It's got no way to win And the stars stare down with sad clown faces And they taunt me They taunt me So I run and I run, and I run and I run But I've nowhere to go except into the sun And I weep for the loss and the loss weeps for me The loss weeps for me Then it whacks me straight into my stomach at night It's… And I stand there and wonder when will I be free Then I realized I held it, it never held me It had to hurt me to finally be gone 'Cause I made the mistake of dragging it on And I wonder what kind of person am I Who weeps for a loss but can't tell it goodbye How I How I weep How I weep How I weep How I How I weep How I weep How I weep Source: LyricFind Songwriter: Norah Jones