Norah Jones previewed her forthcoming album in its entirety at an intimate performance on the final night of Austin’s SXSW Music Festival. She and her four-piece backing band ran through every track from “Little Broken Hearts,” the Danger Mouse-produced album that’s due out May 1 on Blue Note/EMI.“We’re just playing my new album — that’s it. I hope you like it,” she announced to the crowd at the start of the show. Jones seemed a little uneasy at the start of her set but eased into it as things got going. “Is it weird hearing music you’ve never heard before?” she asked a couple of songs in, to which the crowd responded “No!” Jones looked relieved and said: “You guys are great. It’s a little scary sharing new things with new people.” The new tunes were co-written by Jones and Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and reportedly chronicle Jones’ messy break-up with her longtime boyfriend. They find Jones leaning in a soft-rock direction, rather than the jazz-based sound of her earlier work. Tunes such as lead single “Happy Pills” are deceptively upbeat; lyrics such as “time to throw this away, want to make sure you never waste my time again” reveal dark undertones. Looking demure in a black-and-white-striped dress, Jones alternated between playing keyboards and strumming the guitar. Her smooth, smoky voice never faltered. It was obvious she had many friends and admirers in the crowd, including one man who boldly asked for a date. “A date?” she said. “I’m taken. Well, I’m busy. I have like 20 bands to see tonight. Don’t you?” This was the second time Jones premiered a major new work at SXSW. Ten years ago, she performed her debut album, “Come Away With Me,” at the festival, which went on to sell over 10 million copies and win a slew of Grammys. Jones made one other appearance at SXSW this year, with her country band the Little Willies, on Thursday night.
La Zona Rosa, Austin, Texas; 1,200 capacity; free
Reviewed March 17, 2012.
Band: Jason Roberts, Josh Lattanzi, Greg Wieczorek, Pete Remm.