That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
Norah Jones’s musical rise was swift after the release of her debut album, Come Away With Me. The album won two Grammys, one for Album of the Year and one for Best Pop Vocal Album. Jones was nominated for eight Grammys in 2003 and won five, tying Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill for the most awards received by a female artist in one year. Since its release and its Diamond certification, Come Away With Me has sold over 20 million copies, surpassing Carole King’s Tapestry, Britney Spears’ … Baby One More Time, and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, among others.
As Valentine’s Day swiftly approaches, you might want to revisit this album. Its songs have permeated rom-coms, most notably Love, Actually, where Jones’s sultry voice provides the subtle soundtrack to (no spoilers) a turning point for Laura Linney’s character. The acoustic pop album has heavy jazz and blues influences, making it the perfect backdrop for a rainy afternoon or a laid-back dinner party.
Beyond hits like “Come Away With Me,” the album also features covers of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You” (covered by other greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong) and Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart.” But did you know that the album’s first single, “Don’t Know Why,” is a cover as well? Jones’s guitarist, Jesse Harris, wrote “Don’t Know Why” and recorded it three years earlier on his album Jesse Harris & The Ferdinandos.
The original song starts with delicate strums, reminiscent of Harry Nilson’s “Coconut.” A lone violin joins in, earnest yet piercing at times as it reaches to hit the highest notes. The rawness of the violin juxtaposes the more polished guitar accompaniment. The vocals are steady and matter-of-fact, recounting the circumstances of leaving someone by “the house of fun.”
Jones’s cover is performed in a similar style. The beginning starts the same but with the addition of a piano and subtle percussion. Jones accompanies herself on the piano throughout, replacing the original’s violin and yielding a smoother background sound. Jones’ voice is more resonant and has a wider range, smoothly transitioning from the high and airy “My heart is drenched in wine” to the rich timbre brought to “forever.” The lyrics are delivered more as a resignation than a question. We may never know why she didn’t come.
Norah Jones has kept busy since her breakout album. She has released six more albums as well as a compilation album that collects her various collaborations (including with Ray Charles, Foo Fighters, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson). Perhaps my favorite Norah Jones collaboration is “Take Off Your Cool” with OutKast. In a seemingly endless list of side projects, her duet cover album with Billie Joe Armstrong and the creation of an all-female country trio called Puss n Boots stick out as highlights. We’ll see what 2020 has in store for her.