My Kind of Country

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Album Review: Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong – ‘Foreverly’

foreverlyNorah Jones, best known as a jazz singer, has a longstanding love of country music, with her very first album including a cover of Hank Williams and her side project band The Little Willies. Her latest release sees her teaming up with rocker Billie Joe Armstrong for a tribute to the Everly Brothers, whose country roots were rarely far from the surface despite their massive success as pop stars. Interestingly, this tribute passes by the brothers’ pop hits in favour of their folk, country and oldtime influences, by choosing to recreate their Songs Our Daddy Taught Us collection from 1958.

Billie Joe’s voice acts as an effective foil for Norah’s sultry tones, and the pair harmonise unexpectedly well together. The sound of this album is actually what I had hoped for from Alison Krauss and Robert Plant when they worked together a few years ago, a tasteful acoustic blend of freshness and tradition.

I loved the duo’s insistent version insistent ‘Roving Gambler’ with its accents of harmonica.

‘Barbara Allen’ is an old English folk song; Billie Joe sings the lead here (rather unsubtly), and this is one of the less successful reinterpretations in that it is performed as something of a singalong with little emotional connection to the tragic tale which falls far short of the Everlys’ tender restraint. Also a little disappointing from the view of convincing emotional interpretation is the rhythmic ‘Long Time Gone’, one of the more contemporary-sounding arrangements, and although I didn’t dislike this version, the original is much preferable.

The glacially paced murder ballad ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ is much better, and one of the best tracks on this album. ‘Lightning Express’ is an ethereal lament telling a sad tale of a little boy rushing home to see a dying mother but with no money for his fare; it may feel sentimental to a modern ear, but has a period style charm about it.

My favorite track is the gently sung description of a hard working old woman, ‘Rockin’ Alone (In An Old Rockin’ Chair)’, which is simply magical. ‘Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine’ is perhaps delivered a bit too cheerily for the rather downbeat lyric, but the sober ‘Put My Little Shoes Away’ is another excellent track.

Norah takes the lead on a mother’s plea to a prison warden, ‘I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail’, and is quite compelling on this tragic tale, which actually works better than the original.

The love song to the state of ‘Kentucky’ is atmospheric and very well done. ‘Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet’ is a hushed lullaby which I liked. I also quite enjoyed the plaintive ‘Oh So Many Years’.

Overall, this is a delightful record.

Grade: A