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Listening Room: Norah Jones, Lily Allen and more
Norah Jones, “Not Too Late” (Blue Note) **1/2
Norah Jones is not one to kick out the jams, and the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum singer-songwriter doesn’t change that tune on her third album. “Not Too Late” is, in fact, another mostly languid and gentle affair, laden with pretty melodies, detailed — if occasionally stiff — arrangements and Jones’ vocals, which carry a tinge of worldweary melancholy even on a tracks like the playfully sexy “Little Room” and the upbeat, love-encouraging country song “Be My Somebody.” But this time there’s at least a sense of more personal investiture as Jones writes or co-writes all 13 of “Not Too Late’s” songs — five more than she wrote for her fi rst two albums combined. This results in a more strident political leaning than she demonstrated on her predecessors; in “My Dear Country,” for example, Jones laments the 2004 presidential election and labels George W. Bush “the one we hate,” while “Sinkin’ Soon” warns of impending doom. And on “Wish I Could,” “Thinking About You” and “Rosie’s Lullaby,” her characters ruminate on missing paramours who are implied to be fi ghting overseas — although in “Wish I Could,” it’s from the viewpoint of a former lover talking to the subject’s current flame, an inventive little twist. Jones’ range on “Not Too Late” is as broad as it is quiet, with the old-timey two-step of “Sinkin’ Soon” melting into the Americana flavor of “The Sun Doesn’t Like You” and also touching on blues (“Until the End”) and soul (“Thinking About You”). “Rosie’s Lullaby,” meanwhile, incorporates all of the above, with slide guitar lending a country flavor to the bluesy soul melody. It’s all well-crafted and tasteful, a Jones hallmark that makes for easy, though not necessarily rapt, listening.
Lily Allen, “Alright, Still” (Capitol) ***
This British singer became the “Who’s that?” girl of 2006 when the import version of her debut album popped up on some high profi le best-of lists — and the domestic edition, which adds two bonus tracks, lives up to the hype. Allen and producer Mark Ronson have crafted a buoyant set of diss tracks and social commentaries, couching the vitriol in energetic and pop and highspirited reggae. We get the lead track, “Smile,” in both forms, while “Take What You Take” rocks with club-banging abandon, and Allen sings about a reclusive, pot-smoking brother over the cabaret swing of “Alfie.” Imaginative, fresh, droll and edgier than most of the singer’s peers, “Alright, Still” is an arrival we’ll be talking about — and listening to — well into the year.
New and noteworthy
Alkaline Trio, “Remains” (Vagrant) — The punk rockers mark the time before their next release with this 22-track rarities collection and accompanying DVD.
Celtic Woman, “New Journey” (Manhattan) — A new set of traditional and contemporary Celtic songs from the sextet, showcasing new member Hayley Westenra.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Some Loud Thunder” (Clap Your Hands) — Despite major label overtures, the New York rock quartet stays on the independent path for its sophomore set.
Gilby Clarke, “Gilby Clarke” (Spitfire) — The ex-Guns N’ Roses/current Rock Star Supernova guitarist compiles his solo tracks, with a new version of “Black” featuring Supernova runnerup Dilana.
Harry Connick Jr., “Oh, My Nola” (Columbia), “Chanson du Vieux Carre”
(Marsalis Music) — A double helping of Harry showcases two of his musical loves — New Orleans and jazz.
Art Garfunkel, “Some Enchanted Evening”
(Rhino) — The red-headed pop legend delivers his own take on the Great American Songbook with producer Richard Perry, who helmed similar projects for Rod Stewart and Carly Simon.
Tracy Lawrence, “For the Love” (Rocky Comfort) — The country veteran rolls out a new album and his own record label.
Madonna, “Confessions Tour” (Warner Bros.) — A CD/ DVD package, cross and all, from the London stop of Madge’s most recent world tour. The one that (sniff) skipped her home town of Detroit.
Katharine McPhee, “Katharine McPhee” (RCA) — The latest “American Idol” runner-up’s debut boasts writing and production from a who’s-who of hitmakers, including Babyface, the Underdogs, Kara DioGuardi and Nate Hill.
Paolo Nutini, “Last Request” (Atlantic) — The Scottish-born singer crosses the pond with hopes of recreating the sensation he stirred in his homeland last year.
RZA, “Afro Samurai”
(Koch) — The Wu Tang Clan leader gets help from Big Daddy Kane, Talib Kweli, QTip and GZA on this soundtrack to Spike TV’s animated martial arts series.
Skinny Puppy, “Mythmaker” (SPV) — The industrial rock legends continue the reunion they began in 2003 with this politically charged conceptual set.
Various Artists, “Endless Highway: The Music of The Band” (429 Records) — An all-star tribute featuring interpretations by Jack Johnson, Rosanne Cash, Bruce Hornsby, Guster, the Allman Brothers Band, Jakob Dylan and more.
Various Artists, “Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records, 1963-1973” (Rhino) — A stellar five-CD salute to the label that began as a singer-songwriter haven and then became a rock powerhouse with the Doors, Love, the Stooges, the MC5, Queen and more. We can even forgive ’em for Bread.
Young Love, “Too Young to Fight It” (Island) — The debut album by Texas rocker Dan Keyes, who leaves his harder-edged group Recover behind in favor of this hooky, groove-happy new project.
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