A New Album, Big Expectations for Jones
LOS ANGELES (Billboard) – “I’m very over myself,” Norah Jones says with a self-conscious laugh. Fortunately, she seems to be the only one who feels that way. The music industry and countless fans are looking at her Feb. 10 U.S. release “Feels Like Home” as the first potential smash of 2004.
“We expect the new album to be the No. 1 seller for Sam Goody in its first week,” says Donna Beadle, spokeswoman for Sam Goody parent Musicland.
Indeed, anticipation for her sophomore Blue Note album is running extremely high after the success of 2002’s “Come Away With Me,” which swept last year’s Grammy Awards.
By the time the Grammy frenzy rolled around, Jones had learned how to handle the ever-present spotlight — but not before contemplating walking away, she reveals in one of her first interviews about the new album.
“I did, at one point in May 2002, feel too much weight,” she says. “I let people know I had a limit and there were just certain things we don’t want to do, like not have so much work without a few days off.
“And I thought, ‘If this is how it’s going to be, I don’t want to do this.’ I’m really thankful that I know what my limits are and that I can exercise my right to say no.”
That attitude should serve her well this time around. Jones admits to getting uptight about the project, but only when someone asks her how much pressure she feels. “Every single person and their mama asks me that,” the 24-year-old singer says.
Though it’s unrealistic to expect “Feels Like Home” to match the stratospheric sales of “Come Away With Me,” Blue Note executives know that even stellar sales could be viewed as disappointing if they don’t reach the same high watermark.
“I think it’s crazy to say it will sell more than 18 million,” Blue Note president/CEO Bruce Lundvall adds.
Crazy, maybe, but that’s the benchmark set by Jones’ first album, “Come Away With Me.” It sold 18 million units worldwide, according to her label. Of those, 7.8 million moved in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“There is so much excitement, and that’s one of Norah’s concerns, too,” Lundvall continues. “So we’re not hyping the record. We’re not going out there and advertising all over the world. We have a very solid plan, but it’s not over the top. We’re not saying this is the best artist of the last 50 years.”
“Feels Like Home” retains the lovely ease of “Come Away With Me” but strays from that album’s jazzy roots into country, Americana and bluegrass. Additionally, “Feels Like Home” has more midtempo material than the ballad-heavy “Come Away With Me.”
“It’s not like the last record, kept the same mood,” says Jones. “People liked that, and it was also the criticism.”
Jones wrote or co-wrote seven tracks on the album, working primarily with her bandmates. “This album, I was really adamant about wanting to be all the band and no one else,” she says.
Among the few outsiders allowed were guest stars Dolly Parton and the Band’s Garth Hudson and Levon Helm. There are also covers of tunes by Townes Van Zandt and Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan.
“I met backstage, and he said, ‘Did you get the songs I sent you?’ And I’m like, ‘Holy Moly! Are you kidding me?”‘
One of the songs Waits sent, “The Long Way Home,” appears on the new album. “I’m freaked out,” Jones says. “I hope he likes it.”
Once in the studio, Jones left the outside world behind.
The first single, the toe-tapping “Sunrise,” is off to a fast start at triple-A and several adult contemporary radio stations.
“Sunrise” is also a favorite with downloaders. The single set a new record for first-day sales at Apple’s iTunes Music Store, breaking a record previously held by OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”
But Jones is far from a radio-driven artist. “Come Away With Me” peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 2003.
For Jones, any radio play is a bonus. “I’m not concerned about radio,” she says. “The record did well before it ever got a lot of radio play.”
People clearly hunger for substance over style. Studies show that many of today’s successful female artists have succeeded by writing music that delivers comfort in these troubled times, instead of relying on sex appeal.
Jones’ style is more sensual than sexual, and her appeal has grown as she has played to her strengths. “Come Away With Me” was the second-best-selling album in the U.S. in 2003, according to Nielsen SoundScan, even though it came out in February 2002.
Blue Note is initially shipping up to 2.5 million copies of the album in the U.S. So far, sales look strong.
More than two weeks before its release, “Feels Like Home” was already No. 2 on amazon.com, based on pre-orders. “Come Away With Me” was Amazon’s top-selling album for 2002 and 2003, according to group merchandising manager Jeff Somers.
Jones is already pushing the project in international markets, where it comes out Feb. 9. She has just completed a promotional trip to Hong Kong and Japan, and she’ll hit European stages before she tours again in the U.S. Jones will kick off a stateside tour in late June.
For Jones, who sold out 33 of 36 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore last year, playing live is a skill she’s still developing.
“Some people are just naturally very good, talking to the audience,” she says. “I don’t know where to put my hands. Sometimes it’s cool and endearing, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. Give her more to say.”‘
To date, Jones has resisted accepting tour sponsorships and endorsement deals.
“We could have made more money if we had a sponsor, but that’s not the kind of stuff I want to do. Deep down, in my gut, all I want to be is part of a band.”
A New Album, Big Expectations for Jones