Norah Jones has made a career out of trying on different hats. We knew her first as a Grammy-nabbing jazz chanteuse, Blue Note’s next big thing. She was a country darling after that, and her Texas roots make her a natural fit for that world. The 33-year-old continues to flirt with Americana, most recently with the Little Willies, whose charming second LP, For the Good Times, quietly arrived earlier this year. The disc doesn’t push any boundaries, but that’s never what Jones was known for—she’s just having fun jamming with her friends.
That’s not the case on the new Little Broken Hearts, which, as the title suggests, rides a dark undercurrent. Neither jazzy nor rootsy, it’s Jones’s most fully committed pop album yet, thanks to an alliance with Danger Mouse, with whom she collaborated on last year’s Rome. Forgoing that album’s sweeping, spaghetti Western epics, Broken Hearts offers safe, soft pop more in line with what we’ve come to expect from her.
It’s a decent fit for Jones, who’s always been a subtle stylist. Like most of her albums, it’s agreeable but not exceptional. The caress of her warm voice is enough to carry her career forward, even when delivering a biting lyric, which she does several times on Broken Hearts. “Miriam” finds Jones gently unspooling accusatory verse after verse over a mournful, chamber-folk processional: “Oh Miriam / That’s such a pretty name / And I’ll keep saying it / Until you die.” Ouch. That devastating undercut lands just right because it’s so unexpected, signalling that there’s much more to this doe-eyed singer than her copacetic veneer suggests.