For the Good Times
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2012 release from this Country side-project led by Norah Jones. Material for the album was taken from the Willies' live repertoire, and by passing around ideas drawn from disparate sources. The selections include more surprising choices, like the trucker classic 'Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves' and 'Foul Owl On The Prowl,' from the soundtrack to In The Heat Of The Night. Alongside the more obscure songs, though, For the Good Times also includes some of the best-known songs in the history of Country music, like Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' and the title track, written by Kris Kristofferson and made famous by such singers as Ray Price and Al Green.
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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.
It's been six years since their last release, and I for one don't mind the wait, provided what we get is worth it, as this album certainly is. They are not playing this music simply to appeal to a demographic, but rather for the sheer love of it, and it shows - the result is humorous, human, and engaging.
There are plenty of critics who feel Norah Jones should return to and stick with what got her noticed in the first place, her soft, pop/jazz, "Come Away With Me" style. I disagree, and I'm glad that she seems to as well. She could easily pump out songbook standards, but she's not, she's showing breadth as an artist, she's taking chances - with sometimes mixed, sometimes brilliant results.
Richard Julian's vocals suit the material masterfully - straight-forward, oddly familiar, almost spoken rather than sung, and serving as a perfect counterpoint on his duets with Norah. Campilongo, Rieser, and Alexander, as ever, are spot on.
Perhaps not an album for everyone - but for people who love music, and who love listening to people who love music make the music they love (I'd like to lump myself in here), it's a no-brainer.