By Michael Katz
Norah Jones brought her world tour to a near-capacity audience at the Greek Theatre Wednesday, lending her rich vocals to a versatile mix of country, bluesy pop and a bit of bluegrass before the night was over. Since Jones burst on the scene in 2002 with the Grammy winning Blue Note release Come Away With Me, she has been a difficult musician to categorize. Her presence on Blue Note seemed to project a jazz background, but her current work clearly evokes the roots of Roy Orbison, ably abetted by the presence of lead guitarist Smoky Hormel.
Jones plays a strong electric guitar, but it was Hormel’s instrument, with its deep, vibrant tones, that provided the emphatic backdrop for the beginning of the set. Jones opened with “What Am I To You” and “Tell Yer Momma,” both energetic tunes in the country/rockabilly style. She settled into an entertaining pace, which led to “Chasing Pirates,” her hit from the latest album, The Fall. From there she offered some effective covers of Neil Young’s “The Losing End” and Willie Nelson’s “What Do You Think of Her Now.”
When Jones moved over to acoustic piano for “Cold, Cold Heart,” the tone of the evening became more intimate. Jones has a nicely nuanced style when she accompanies herself, especially on her own compositions – the vocals have a softer edge, and you could sense the audience connecting with her as she sang “Waiting” and “Back To Manhattan.” “Carnival Town” had a honky tonk piano feel to it and the band behind her featured marimbas and acoustic bass, adding to the musical pastiche.
Jones seemed to nurture her relationship with the audience in the Greek’s intimate amphitheatre as the 90 minute performance went along. “Man of the Hour” was a folksy, piano-backed ode to her dog. “Don’t Know Why,” her hit single from Come Away With Me, retains its effectiveness, perhaps because it reflects a sense of loss not always evident in a career that has been so successful from the start.
After concluding the scheduled set with “Come Away With Me,” the band returned for two more numbers, “Sunrise” and “Creepin’ In,” both of them brightly bluegrass, with Jones on acoustic guitar.
It’s quite clear that Norah Jones is blessed with a lovely voice, and a musical diversity that reflects itself both in her songwriting and instrumental playing. Though she clearly enjoys leading a girl rockabilly troupe, she still connects most viscerally with her audience when she is in front of the piano.
Corinne Bailey Rae opened the show with an hour long set, much in the spirit of the Norah Jones band that would follow. Like Jones, she can play effectively on acoustic or electric guitar as well as keyboards. A native of Leeds in the UK, she was featured with Herbie Hancock on the title song of his Grammy winning CD, River. Her set featured music from her latest album The Sea. Rae has a sweet, intimate voice that seemed overwhelmed at times early in the set by a band that sometimes featured three guitars plus drums, keyboard and bass. Later, as she made the switch to acoustic, her voice with its gentle British accent, came through more clearly, especially on her composition “The Blackest Lily.” The band did an appealing cover of the doo wop “I Only Have Eyes For You” about midway through the set, and closed with a slow, sultry version of “Que Sera Sera.”