Come Away With Me: 20 years of Norah Jones’ triumphant debut album

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Come Away With Me: 20 years of Norah Jones’ triumphant debut album

norah jones come away with me 20 years
Words by Benjamin Lamb

A track-by-track break down of Norah Jones' rise from local to global with Come Away With Me, and how she brought jazz abck to the mainstream

There’s almost no question that Norah Jones is one of a kind, her euphoric and angelic voice coupled with virtuosic piano skills meld together for an album that brings you in, holds you tight, and never lets you go.

It’s now been 20 years since the genre-bending jazz vocalist released her chart-topping debut album, and it’s still living on all these years later, with a 20th anniversary edition on its way.

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Back in early 2002, Aussies were enjoying music like ‘Not Pretty Enough’ by Kasey Chambers, Diorama by Silverchair, and ‘Born to Try’ by Delta Goodrem, as Norah Jones’ debut came out of nowhere.

Back in late 2001 and early 2002, a 22-year-old Norah Jones had just moved to the musical mecca of New York after living in Texas for a number of years where she was studying the world of jazz piano.

Falling into the New York jazz scene was no hard feat being one of the only cities in the world to have daily gigs, jazz clubs, and a variety of groups for like minded people. This is where her path to stardom began.

In what feels like a story taken from a movie, after playing a gig, Norah was approached by a label executive from EMI, who set up an interview with her and Blue Note Records, a major player in the worldwide jazz scene, their pedigree of artists spans decades, including jazz greats like Thelonious Monk, Dexter Gordon, and many more.

After playing a two-track demo to the label, Jones was subsequently signed on to a deal, where she, and a few artists she had been hitting the live scene with came up with a demo album called Allaire. This release featured songs we now know as ‘Don’t Know Why’ and ‘Seven Years’.

After delivering the finished demo to Blue Note, Jones was told it wasn’t good, and it strayed too far from what makes her special. The demo was then retooled, and some demos were reused and brought onto Come Away with Me.

Something that makes this album special is the idea that there was no breakout single. It’s not something we really see in music anymore, each song was as strong as the next, and the highest charting single was ‘Don’t Know Why’, which hit the 40 spot on a few charts.

This song opened the album, the one that introduced the world to the star. ‘Don’t Know Why’ was actually written by her long-time collaborator Jesse Harris, who featured the song on his album from a few years prior.

Following on from this was ‘Seven Years’, a track that lived on from the demo days and was re-jigged by Jones for the album, it was originally written by her other long-time collaborator and bassist, Lee Alexander.

A cover came next, of country icon Hank Williams’ ‘Cold Cold Heart’, a song that holds a special spot in the heart of Jones. She is a lifelong fan of the country star, recently covering his track ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’.

We then get gifted another track written by Alexander, ‘Feelin the Same Way’. Perhaps interestingly, this track was only released as a single in the UK, where it hit the number 72 spot.

The title track is probably one of the other songs that have lived on in a big way over the last 20 years, penned by Jones herself, ‘Come Away with Me’ has since appeared across TV and movies, even in the hit 2002 film Maid in Manhattan.

‘Turn Me On’ happens next, a track penned by John D. Loudermilk, who wrote tracks for artists like Chet Atkins and Marianne Faithful. ‘Turn Me On’ was written for 1960’s vocalist Mark Denning, and his since been recorded by vocalists like Nina Simone and of course Norah Jones.

We’re then treated to number of great tracks written by Jones, Harris and Alexander, with the album closing with ‘The Nearness of You’, a track written way back in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington, another song that is important and close to Jones.

After its release, it was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2002, receiving close to perfect scores from Metacritic, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly.

It then received a whopping eight Grammy awards, for categories like Album of the Year, Best New Artist, and Record of the Year. It also won the rare Italian Music Award for Best International revelation. The Italian Music Award’s were short lived, concluding in 2004, where Tribalistas received the award.

Next month, Norah is celebrating 20 years of the album with release of demos from the Allaire days, and releasing alternative versions of tracks, an alternative ‘Come Away with Me’ can be heard below.

The 20th anniversary Allaire/alternate Come Away With Me edition is out on April 29, preorder it here.