Let's be clear right off the bat: Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Norah Jones will become the biggest superstar, musically speaking, to perform in Central Oregon this year when she takes the Les Schwab Amphitheater stage Wednesday (see “If you go" on Page 5).
Jack Black of Tenacious D is probably a bigger star, but that's because of his film career. Bill Cosby is definitely bigger, but that's because, well, he's all-around awesome.
But among the folks who actually made their name writing, recording and playing songs, no one tops Norah.
I say that because of a handful of bewildered looks I've seen when discussing Jones recently. The conversations have gone something like this:
Me: “I'm stoked to see Norah Jones. That'll be a great show, and a big one, too."
Them: “Huh? Norah Jones? Is she that popular?"
Those are understandable questions. In 2012, when artists must make a splash and/or stomp till they're heard to stay at the forefront of music lovers' minds, Jones may be the quietest, most subtle star out there.
Her career kicked off with a flash of success in 2002, when her debut album — the folk, jazz and pop fusion masterpiece “Come Away With Me" — was a runaway critical and commercial success, racking up a ridiculous eight Grammy awards (including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist). It has sold more than 26 million copies to date worldwide.
You've heard of records going platinum, meaning they sold 1 million copies? “Come Away With Me" has gone diamond (10 million) in the United States alone. So did her followup, 2004's “Feels Like Home."
Since then, Jones has continued to release records that have sold well, even in the face of declining industry-wide sales. And she has never sat still stylistically, collaborating with wide-ranging artists such as Willie Nelson, OutKast, Herbie Hancock and the Foo Fighters. Her occasional side-project band The Little Willies has released two albums of classic country covers.
Jones' newest work will only further her reputation as a sonic adventurer. It's called “Little Broken Hearts," and it's a collaboration with super-producer Danger Mouse, the man behind Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells and dozens of other hit-makers.
The name of “Hearts" is telling: the album is packed wall-to-wall with four-minute tales of romantic devastation and every possible feeling that follows, from sadness to, more often, anger and a thirst for revenge.
The juxtaposition of Jones' gorgeous voice against Danger Mouse's bouncy, cinematic beats makes the whole thing feel like staring at a raging fire encased in controlled, icy cool. It's a beautiful study in contrast, an example of the kind of art that rises from incredible pain and tension. And, as always, it's understated in that Norah Jones sort of way.
We'd expect nothing less.