Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Little Willies

Right before her Blue Note Records debut, Norah Jones was the talk of the town, at least in my town. Everyone carried her around in their pockets like a precious little secret and you were either part of the club or you weren't. I missed the early train. I didn't see the pre-major label performances to audiences of 40 or less. I never got the 6 track, pre-major label E.P.. I just got shoved on at rush hour like everybody else. But I got on.

I've been a fan since "Come Away With Me," her gazillion selling first album. I loved the follow-up, "Feels Like Home," even more. Yes, there are times, especially on the last two records, where you just want to give her a little Kramden-on-Norton shove and say, "Will you come on?!" There's a quality in Norah's voice, as pure and wonderful as it is, that can occasionally lull you to sleep, which would be fantastic if you wanted to go to sleep. But even on the upbeat tunes, which are admittedly few and far between on her first four records, Norah Jones never really belts one out. And I know she can.

This brings me to The Little Willies, one of Jones' many side projects and another reason I love her. She's a star. Like huge, with 800 Grammys and lots of very famous friends, and she'd still rather hang around NYC with her buddies and play covers in tiny downtown clubs. With The Little Willies, her buddies are singer- songwriter Richard Julian, guitarist extraordinaire Jim Campilongo, ex-boyfriend, bassist and producer Lee Alexander and drummer Dan Rieser, and the new record, "For The Good Times," released on January 10th, picks up and takes off where the 2006 debut Little Willies left off.

"For The Good Times" is a blast. With Norah and Richard Julian sharing lead vocal duties, this killer little band parties through country faves by Ralph Stanley, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell and the band's namesake, Willie Nelson. Does Norah Jones belt one out here? Well, not in a Janis Joplin sense, no. But it sure does sound like she's done a little shooter of whiskey or two. She plays it less safe than on her solo records, and the result is fantastic. Looser.

The selecton of covers is great- "Lovesick Blues," "Fist City," "Jolene," and one of my all time faves, Kris Kristofferson's heartbreaking title track. Jim Campilongo's Tele-attack will make your jaw drop. He's a player that should be getting a lot more attention.

Take a look:

I don't want to deceive any of you. The Little Willies aren't some rocking twangers like Southern Culture On The Skids or even Commander Cody's Lost Planet Airmen. The production is warmer than it should be. But, I love both these records nonetheless, and if you only sorta liked Norah Jones, I'd give The Little Willies a go.


allen vella said...

Great clip...heard Nora and the boys on Fuv the other night,I like the Willies concept, works well with Nora's voice.
Now, That is how to play a me when I hear someone playing like that (not many), it defines the Tele sound and attitude. Spot on pickin, killer tone.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I was just going to say, that man plays a mean telecaster. The hairs on the back of my neck are still sticking up.
Until now I only knew there was someone in the world named Norah Jones, who sings, sell records, and wins Grammy's.
That she does this too leads me to believe she's an actual artist, not just some melisma addict from American Idol.

Ken D said...

The album is currently available for streaming preview on the NPR Music site:

Chris Collins said...

I never get to say "I was into this person back when..."

But in Norah's case I saw her play a bunch at the old Living Room on Stanton and Allen. There were indeed 40 people in the room. Tops. And everyone had a crush on her.

I love Norah. And there's a song on the second record called "Humble Me" which breaks my heart every.single. time. She's a rare talent.

That said, I really liked the first Little Willies album. I'm looking forward to hearing this.

FD13NYC said...

I have to say I was never a fan of Snora Jones, put me to sleep every time. Although I was impressed by the Hank Williams tune she did on Elvis Costello's show Spectacle.

After downloading this offering I found it to be actually pretty good, or savory but for special tastes, as they say. The guitar work by Jim is a standout. But as Sal said, don't expect any country rockin' twangy music, just go with it, you might enjoy it, as I did.

Noam Sane said...

FD13NYC - that was a category for Creem record reviews, wasn't it? I love that and quote it often.

I was fortunate to live in SF when Jim Campilongo was playing around town, caught him many times, and eventually studied with him. He is a monster, and a sweet guy.

He was working with Martha Wainwright for a while, but was kind of muted and in the background there. This is a much better forum for him, great players playing great classic country tunes (and a couple of originals as well).

They were on Letterman the other night, check Jim's solo - sweet and beautiful - at the 2 minute mark.

FD13NYC said...

Good call Noam. I always admired that expression, been using it for many years. It really means what it is.

Yeah, Jim is a very good player. We'd all love to play a telecaster like that.

Meanstreets said...

I love Norah Jones & always will...and not just because I " smoozed " with her discreetly for 20 minutes at the Austin - Bergstrom Airport after a SXSW festival....
Nobody " mocks " Norah in my presense...they know better.....Oh, one more thing...she's " smokin' hot ".........
And has total respect for the TX legendary singer - songwriter history...

kevin m said...

Sorry Sal. This doesn't do anything for me and I like Nora's solo stuff. But I will give it a second shot in the next few days.

BTW - I must be out of the loop. Who the hell is Lana Del Ray? She is on SNL tonight and the cover of Q magazine!

Have you heard Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds? Just saw them at Rockwood Music Hall. Great live band...much better than what their one studio cd sounds like

Sal Nunziato said...

@Kevin M

I read the Lana Del Rey Q cover story and I still dont know who she is. I hate Q.

Anonymous said...

Who the hell is Lana Del Ray?
Lana Del Ray is a has-been after that performance on SNL. She was almost universally criticized. And justifiably so in my opinion.

SNL has notoriously bad sound engineers on their show and it's difficult to come off well. But Del Ray sounded like a 13 year old singing her own poetry in front of the bathroom mirror.