Some may know Norah Jones exclusively as the immaculately voiced writer of loungey, jazz-inflected tunes perfect for rainy afternoons. Others who have followed her discography since those passionate and endearing early ‘00s gems have seen massive swings intended to redefine and expand her palette. She leaned into cinematic rock with Danger Mouse on “Little Broken Hearts,” started a country band with Puss ‘N Boots and featured on an Outkast track. Many lauded 2016’s “Day Breaks” as a return to her piano jazz core.
Now, on her seventh LP. “Pick Me Up Off the Floor,” Jones clears away the weight of genre signposts and disentangles her process to affirm twin strengths: her sterling voice and empathic songwriting. Whether singing about existential dread, finding hope in darkness or the pain of heartbreak, Jones gracefully translates those feelings into intimate moments of personal action and emotion. The album’s title even reckons with that dual strength, laid out and calling out for someone to lend a hand. A variety of discomforts put Jones down, but the process of rendering them in song is an act of uplift.
Rather than set out to record an album, Jones initially cobbled together a series of studio sessions as one-offs, expecting to come away with a few songs to round out the 2019 singles collection “Begin Again.” Even after releasing those songs, however, she found herself sitting with a surplus of material. It’s incredibly rare for “leftovers” to comprise a cohesive album, but “Pick Me Up Off the Floor” does just that.
Though stretching its borders from stormcloud blues to orchestral jazz pop to lithe Motown, the album is tied together by Jones’ ineffable ability to convey big emotions with simplicity. “How I weep, and I sleep, and I march, and I dance … but inside, inside I weep,” she pours out on the album’s opener. As the track ends, Jones’ heart is caught behind in brambles, the loss felt deeply, though the minimalist lyrics only hint at the story. Musically, the song counterbalances the existential weight with an evocative string arrangement from Paul Wiancko, curls of violin like birds darting through the sky, viola dropping like rain on growing flowers.
When daily life in modern America feels compounded by an endless array of issues and calls for hope, Jones’ songs pare away details to let the big moments speak for themselves. Walking the fine line between vague and blunt can be tricky, and “Pick Me Up Off the Floor” keeps itself squarely on the latter. Her lyrics aren’t refined and toiled over, but instead cut straight to the core, as if written directly after each painful moment. Album highlight “Heartbroken, Day After” sells both the angst and the yearning within words of each other. “Heartbroken, day after, our world is wasting away,” she offers, only to rebut herself, as if responding to the tears of the listener. “Oh hey, hey, it’s gonna be okay my little one / I promise we’ll find our way.” As angelic pedal steel guitar and backing vocals blur into a radiant corona, Jones’ voice boosts into another range: “Find a way out!” she calls, bursting out of the gloom.
It’s tempting to align that song and others under a banner of protest or response to the Trump presidency. “I’m Alive” is as simple and direct a statement of hope as many are capable of in this moment. Co-written by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, the song uses a nameless “she” as a stand-in for Jones herself and women around the world. “She’s crushed by thoughts at night of men / Who want her rights / And usually win / But she’s alive,” Jones exhales, the trademark smoke in her voice weaving through muscly piano, Tweedy’s choppy acoustic guitar and his son Spencer’s nimble drumming. “He screams, he shouts / The heads on the TV bow / They take the bait / They mirror waves of hate,” Jones adds — a straightforward yet no less affecting summation of the last few years in American politics.
Elsewhere, “To Live” digs into more oppression, but aches to break through. “To live in this moment and finally be free / Is what I was after, no chains holding me,” she sings over the gospel-tinted, horn-laden track. And though the solution to her pain may seem easy — love, right there in front of Jones’ face — there’s a revelatory power to the sway, and comfort in the conviction.
Other experiments leave behind the political sphere to push into more personal territory, though again leaving room for listeners to feel every word without the weight of distance or minutiae. “Flame Twin” slinks and burns like a breakup funk track, and “Heaven Above” (another Tweedy collaboration) rides Jones’ lithe piano and lapping waves of guitar into the sunset, looking up at the sky for signs of a lost love.
While it may not be soundtracking any marches or precisely match any singular breakup, Jones’ latest captures big-picture feelings of anxiety, fear, loss and hope. “Pick Me Up Off the Floor” is a cohesive journey reflecting both tragically and sweetly on the amorphous cloud of heartache that lingers in these moments of pain, offering a hand to help us out of the fog.