Norah Jones is an oddity in today's music business. Her main calling card as an artist is restraint, which by today's standards is usually the kiss of death. Her music is made by actual musicians, the production is minimalistic, her singing is gimmick-free and understated, and her repertoire is essentially composed of dreamy, romantic and slightly downbeat ditties. In spite of all this - or perhaps precisely BECAUSE of all this - she became one of the best-selling artists of the 2000s, sweeping Grammys and multi-platinum sales along the way. She got away with being different, probably because there wasn't much non-teen-oriented music out there.
"Not Too Late", her third album, continues in the same vein as its predecessors; but if anything, it makes the formula better. The album is more cohesive, more focused and definitely more personal, no doubt given Norah's increased input in songwriting (she has penned or co-penned all of the album's 13 tracks). The tone is decidedly darker, whether she's addressing conflicting emotions ("Thinking about you", "Wish I could") or the state of the world ("My dear country", "Sinkin' soon"). And although the album ends on the hopeful and sweet title track, the album leaves a lasting impression of sadness and beauty.
Some will argue that her self-penned material doesn't always live up to the standards of some of Norah's past covers; while it's true that there's certainly nothing as instantly arresting as her debut single "Don't know why", it's clear that Norah has decided to follow a different path, closer to country, grass and blues. What this album lacks in catchiness, it certainly makes up for with an emotional depth that her other albums sometimes lacked. It will be interesting to see whether her public follows her in such musical explorations, but judging from the number one debut of this album on the Billboard charts, she just might - once again - get away with it.