Album Review: Norah Jones – Pick Me Up Off The Floor

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Is it wrong if I would like to thank the person who broke Norah Jones’ heart?  It’s not that I want her to suffer but there is something so pleasurable in listening to her breathy laments.   

Her 7th studio album “Pick Me Up Off The Floor” is scheduled for release on June 12th.  (It was delayed due to the pandemic).  In an interview with USA Today, she said that she wasn’t sure if it was a good time to be launching a new record during these difficult times but she is hoping that the music will offer a sense of comfort to those that are quarantined.

I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy and I have been savouring her smoky voice for the past few weeks.   Although some of the tracks are quite dark, the album offers a great range of styles and moods as she easily weaves in and out of her unique blend of jazz, folk, country and even gospel.  

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since her debut album, “Come Away with Me”,  dominated the music world with its genre-transcending sound. At only 23 she earned 5 Grammys, including the Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist.  (The album went Diamond, selling over 27 million copies.)

You would never guess that her latest release is comprised of songs that didn’t make the cut for previous albums.  There are not too many artists that can create an entire album of songs that were initially rejected.  Thankfully, Miss Jones was smart enough to revisit and rescue these sumptuous tracks so that we could all enjoy them.

Whether it’s during my evening walks or as I prepare endless meals in the kitchen, Norah’s soothing voice in my headphones is like a trusted friend whispering secrets in my ear.  Her deliberately slow and hushed confessions ease my mind as well as cause me to look deep inside myself and ask some serious questions.

The album begins sparse and dark with simple piano chords, some bass and cello with the focus on her voice.  Her first words are the title of the song “How I Weep”.  It’s not my favourite track but the sweetness of her tone draws you in.

The second track “Flame Twin” is more bluesy and sultry with some electric guitar. It reminds us that she kills on the piano.

“Hurts To Be Alone” and  “I’m Alive (co-written with Jeff Tweedy) are the most quick-paced and catchy songs that will probably get the most radio play.

“Heartbroken, Day After” could easily be a country song if produced with another arrangement.  When Norah croons; “hey, hey, it’s going to be OK, at least that’s what I tell myself anyway,” you believe her.

“This Life” which begins with the foreboding lyrics “This life as we know it is over” should have been released as a single.  The first time I heard it I froze and wondered how did she know?  The contrast of Norah’s melancholic inflections with the celestial back up vocals, make it one of my favourite tracks.

The haunting “Were You Watching” was the first single released on May 13th.  Inspired by a poem written by friend Emily Fiskio, it is the heaviest and most sombre track.  The dramatically intense piano and violin work create an uncomfortable mood as Norah lashes out accusatory lyrics.

“Stumble On My Way” has that light and airy feel where it’s as though Norah is almost humming.   On first listen it appears to be such a simple and understated song but in true Norah Jones fashion, it’s so much more.  The way she lingers over words and takes her time on her keys creates that relaxed and effortless style that made us fall in love with her almost 20 years ago.  

“To Live” is my other favourite track with its soulful vibe and uplifting message of hope.  It has such a rich gospel quality that I could easily hear Mavis Staples singing these lyrics.

“To live in this moment and finally be free is what I was after, no chains holding me.
If love is the answer in front of my face
I’ll live in this moment and find my true place”

As unemployment, a pandemic and racial injustice loom across the world,  I believe that “Pick Me Up Off The Floor” couldn’t have come at a better time. It is an album of great reflection and depth.  Norah Jones commands your attention and forces you to look at things that aren’t always easy.  This is not background music. 

Annette Aghazarian 

(Photos by Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

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