Album reviews: Norah Jones | Dion | Teddy Thompson | Good Dog

Norah Jones makes the sophisticated sound effortless, while Dion sings the blues with an impressive bunch of guest stars
Norah Jones PIC: Beth ChalmersNorah Jones PIC: Beth Chalmers
Norah Jones PIC: Beth Chalmers

Norah Jones: Pick Me Up Off the Floor (Virgin EMI/Blue Note) ***

Dion: Blues With Friends (KTBA Records) ***

Teddy Thompson: Heartbreaker Please (Thirty Tigers) ****

Good Dog: Creature (Lost Map) ***

During lockdown, legions of live streamed home concerts have beamed in from hibernating musicians around the world but in all the enthusiastic babble, Norah Jones’s simple, sincere birthday tribute to Willie Nelson was an oasis of poised joy, eliciting contented cooing from listeners.

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Jones is skilled in making the sophisticated sound effortless and off-the-cuff, in calming the storm with her sultry voice and soothing arrangements. For some, it’s too snoozy to engage but for the faithful, it’s a delicious comfort blanket.

Her latest album, Pick Me Up Off the Floor, is another beautifully calibrated collection in which to take refuge, a natural and unforced melange of her go-to cocktail jazz, smoky blues, southern soul and country inflections.The opening uncluttered chamber piece, How I Weep, is a relatively experimental blend of jazz piano, metronomic bass and the alto sigh of strings but it introduces the soft sorrow of much of the album, as typified by the catharsis of Heartbroken, Day After and the mournful, gospel-tinged This Life with its prescient observation that “this life as we know it is over.” Say No More uses burnished brass and easy jazz piano to convey the ebb and flow of being emotionally tossed around but there is strength and encouragement in the timeless one-day-at-a-time philosophy of To Live and the warm ache rather than strident cry of the MeToo-inspired I’m Alive (“she’ll march, she has no choice”), co-written with Jeff Tweedy.

Veteran R&B frontman Dion, still best known 60 years on for his early solo hits Runaround Sue and The Wanderer, may not be one of the mostly loudly sung rock’n’roll trailblazers, but he commands the respect of many artists whose success has eclipsed his. Hence the very impressive guest list on this latest album, released in his 80th year.

Blues with Friends delivers what it says on the tin, comprising a slick set of electric blues originals performed with a host of guest vocalists and guitar virtuosos from Jeff Beck to Joe Bonamassa, Van Morrison to Bruce Springsteen, plus sleeve notes provided by a typically mischievous Bob Dylan.

All are such practised hands that there is a perfunctory professionalism to many of the contributions, from the efficient rockabilly of Uptown Number 7 (with Stray Cat Brian Setzer) to the leisurely western swing of Stumbling Blues and the country blues of Can’t Start Over Again.

The Paul Simon collaboration Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America) stands out, not least because Dion’s recollections of touring the segregated South with the titular soul star – “there was so much I didn’t know about the way that life could go... the places I could stay, they made you walk away” – carry a haunting resonance in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Like Norah Jones, Teddy Thompson wears his classic influences and well-worn lyrical themes lightly on his latest album Heartbreaker Please. In Thompson’s winning hands this is heartbreak that’s not too heavy to carry; it just needs a healthy outlet via the cleansing country of Why Wait, breezy southern soul of It’s Not Easy or the Buddy Hollyesque At a Light – a you’re-gonna-miss-me tune that’s more sweet than bitter – before Thompson twists the knife a bit more on the soulful ballads Brand New and No Idea.

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Good Dog is the solo alias of ex-Tuff Love multi-instrumentalist for hire Suse Bear, who makes delicate use of her one-woman-band skills on her self-recorded and mixed debut album. Creature features a mix of short, sweet instrumentals and lo-fi pop songs which document the struggles of her 20s. It’s mostly gentle, dreamy mood music with murmured vocals and devotional overdubbed harmonies, punctuated by the relatively noisier indie fuzz of Plane.


Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade, Capriccio Espagno & Russian Easter Festival Overture (LAWO Classics) ****

There are few richer pickings for orchestras than the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, so a new album from Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra featuring all three of the works that dominated the composer’s mind throughout 1887 and 1888 is an indulgence worth having. The most famous piece is the symphonic suite Scheherazade, inspired by the tale from the Arabian Nights, which elicits the most vivid response from the Oslo players. Besides the stylish precision of leader Elise Båtes’ violin solos, there is a real sense of immersion that gives this performance an edge over the others. The pacing is right, the intensity tastefully calibrated. It sizzles but never burns. The Capriccio Espagnol’s incisive flavourings are never quite so excitingly manifest, but more marked spontaneity in the Russian Easter Festival Overture turns the tide.

Ken Walton


Niels Lan Doky: River of Time (Inner Adventures) ****

That most cosmopolitan of pianists, Niels Lan Doky, is now re-established in his native Denmark after spells in New York, London and Paris, and if the title of this fine album suggests taking stock, he sounds distinctly as if he’s enjoying himself at this stage of his journey. This is particularly the case on tracks such as the high-spirited Are You Coming With Me?, Doky’s playing emphatically joyful as drummer Niclas Bardeleben bashes things along on tambourine with Sally Army gusto. Doky’s trio with Bardeleben and double-bassist Tobias Dall frequently sound as if they’re having a ball though. In the opening exuberance of Pink Buddha, for instance, Doky overlays a catchy piano hook with a bright glitter of glockenspiel, while the bluesy swagger of Greasy Sauce exudes plenty of, well, sass. The title track sees a graceful shuffle ushering along a ballad of Jarrett-esque winsomeness, the river flowing elegantly on its way.

Jim Gilchrist

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