I’ve been a fan of Norah Jones ever since first hearing her debut album Come Away With Me in the perfect setting: underneath the stars on Liverpool Clipper whilst sailing out of the city at the start of the 2002 Clipper round the world yacht race. Crew members had each brought some favourite CDs, but very, very few were played as often, or became so loved.
I had, however, never previously heard tonight’s opening track My Heart Is Full, an incredibly powerful tour-de-force with lyrics that could easily be interpreted as a comment on current world events. In truth, no interpretation is necessary; the gentle but irresistible triple-heartbeat-style rhythm and almost-whispered-then-soaring vocals make it as precious and as perfectly formed as any jewel.
Getting to Manchester turned out to be a bit of a schlep, given the unexpectedly heavy traffic. Hearing this number would have made the journey worthwhile by itself.
Not that the rest of the evening was in any way pale by comparison, with covers and less well-known tracks going down every bit as well as hugely evocative crowd favourites such as Sunrise, Come Away With Me and encore Don’t Know Why (the latter itself a cover, which I hadn’t realised).
There are influences aplenty in the music, most obviously country and jazz; but there are also flavours of blues, folk, gospel, pop, R&B, rock and roll, rockabilly, and prog rock; and it wouldn’t take much for some songs to be tipped totally into ragtime or boogie-woogie. The lightness of touch, in both the arrangements and accompaniment, as well as in Jones’s own singing and playing, hints at her history as a lounge musician – she really knows how to put a song across, both musically and lyrically, whether it’s one of her own or not.
Variety also comes in the form of multiple instrument changes – Norah swapping piano for organ or electric guitar, Christopher Morrissey double bass for electric bass, Dan Iead electric guitar for lap steel, for example. Drummer Brian Blade may not have skipped from one drum kit to another, but he may as well have: his playing switched from laid back to jazzy to atmospheric, and so on, with such grace it appeared effortless.
To call the results ‘tasteful’ might sound like damning with faint praise; but it’s hard not to mention taste when the taste in question is this impeccable, and with each element so perfectly suited to the whole. There’s subtlety in spades; so much so that the near two-and-a-half thousand seater Bridgewater Hall feels incredibly intimate. It feels less like a major concert than a personal sharing, with Jones’s voice – the most subtle instrument of all – allowed the time and space to weave its beguiling spell.
Most beguiling of all, personally speaking, was Rosie’s Lullaby – a beautiful song in any case, made all the more so by the fact that we recently lost one of our Clipper Crew, Rose Mary Perez. Known on board as Rosie, she was taken from us way, way too young, breaking all our hearts. It felt incredibly special to remember her whilst listening to an artist so beloved by the whole crew.
This was my first visit to Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, and I have to say, I was impressed (the price of the beer aside!). It’s a shame traffic prevented me arriving in time to hear the support act; from what I’ve seen and heard on YouTube, Emily Elbert is surely well worth catching live if you get the chance. In all other respects, the evening’s entertainment was nothing less flawless.