A warm, coffeehouse-ready collection of covers of country and Americana, "For the Good Times" sounds as unpretentious, fine-tuned, labored-over and relaxed as the Little Willies' 2006 self-titled debut.
These covers blend together with grace and ease. There is a sense of joy that permeates the record because this is not stiff, people-pleasing fare. Rather, Norah Jones and company cut loose and sink their teeth into these wonderful tunes written by Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, among others.
Jones and Richard Julian sing with only the necessary passion in service of the material; no affect is necessary. Whether it's the dark, chugging "Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves" or Ralph Stanley's lovesick, sugary "I Worship You," the emphasis remains on tight, well-oiled musicianship - playing music in pursuit of that ever-elusive perfect take.
Parton's brooding, paranoid "Jolene" is particularly rapturous in Jones' hands, and Lee Alexander's bass is sharp and chiseled as ever on several selections. Loretta Lynn's "Fist City" is particularly humorous with Jones' sober, straightahead reading.
Lovely harmonizing and gorgeous guitar plucking make "Lovesick Blues" a major highlight as well. Willie Nelson's "Permanently Lonely" is given its due with Richard Julian's contemplative, thoughtful interpretation.
"For the Good Times" is a colorful, engaging and well-wrought piece of musicianship by musicians ultimately playing for themselves and their love of the music.