Jones ignores pressure, stems new creativity with second album
By ALAN SCULLEY
For the Call
To many outside observers, Feb. 23, 2003, should have been the moment of a lifetime for Norah Jones.
Jones strolled away with five prestigious Grammy awards that night, while those involved with her debut CD, "Come Away With Me," collected three more Grammys, including best songwriter Jesse Harris for "Don't Know Why" and best producer Arif Mardin.
But amid the feelings of joy and gratification came a no-table amount of uncertainty, anxiety and even a bit of fear for Jones.
"I actually was worried," Jones said of her Grammy haul. "I had a feeling of dread at the end of the night, to be honest, because of all the knives that come out when people become very successful, and all the criticism.
"I don't really have the stomach for that kind of success," she continued. "I don't have the stomach for that kind of windfall from it."
Jones, who left hometown Dallas, Texas, to hone her singing and piano skills at New York City clubs and restaurants, doesn't seem interested in fame.
When reflecting on her young career, Jones, 25, sounds disinterested in the television appearances, interviews and photo shoots that raise an artist's profile.
She's reticent to talk about her family — she is the daughter of Indian music star Ravi Shankar, but was raised by her mother. She also tries to avoid questions about her love life, her four-year relationship with her bassist, Lee Alexander.
She would rather concentrate on her musical creativity, replacing time interviewing with time spent on a piano bench caressing the keys.
Her greatest concern, she said, is that success will in-fringe on her artistic life.
"Probably my biggest fear is that it will stop me from being creative in the way that I was creative before I even thought about having success, before I even wanted success," she said.
Jones seems to have dealt well with all the hype and expectations that came with the success of her first album.
With sales of 8 million copies in the United States to com-plement her huge success worldwide, selling 18 million copies overseas, "Come Away With Me" was one of the most successful debuts in history.
And Jones hasn't slowed down.
Surprisingly, with all the hype surrounding her first al-bum and the anticipation of a second CD, Jones was able to cast off the pressure, focusing on creatio weinew album with its own sense of sound.
With her second CD, "Feels Like Home," Jones responded to the monumental expectations by deliverio weirecord that matches the quality of the first album — while making some stylistic changes to enhance her creativity and sound — and has become another huge market success, selling 4 million copies and counting.
Jones noted that once she and her core band — Alex-ander on bass, guitarists Adam Levy and Kevin Breit, drummer Andrew Borger and backup vocalist Daru Oda — were in the studio, they were able to completely focus on the music, letting outside distractions melt away.
"I didn't feel pressured at all," she said. "I think going in the studio is really fun and it's a fun opportunity to try stuff out."
While the music is judiciously arranged and produced to keep the focus on Jones' vocals, the young star and her band sound relaxed and confident on "Feels Like Home."
Stylistically, the album re-establishes the strengths Jones displayed on "Come Away With Me," while offering some subtle contrasts with the debut, most notably a gentle country influence in the music.
The country tinge helps give the CD more variety than "Come Away With Me" — an album even Jones said may have been a bit too mellow.
Picking up the tempo on "Feels Like Home" not only gives the CD more diversity, it livens Jones' show as well as Jones herself.
"It's been a lot more fun and it's been a lot more varied," Jones said of the current show.
"I love ballads and I love doing that stuff, but when you're playing live, I mean, playing a bunch of ballads, that gets tiresome. So it's been fun."
It's been fun, but it's also been a conversation piece. Her current tour has become something of the poster child for a summer concert season that has suffered weak ticket sales.
The big casualty was Lollapalooza, which was canceled because of poor advance ticket sales. Other struggling tours included the Kiss/Poison double bill, the American Idols tour, Incubus' arena tour and Jessica Simpson's outdoor amphitheater tour.
Jones' tour, which began in August, has been widely cited for having had to move into smaller venues in einumber of markets, including Chicago, Portland, Ore., and Kan-sas City.
Jones, though, doesn't believe her tour should be a center of attention.
"Everybody's had trouble, the whole industry, so I don't really think it's fair to pinpoint it on certain people," Jones said.
Citizens' concerns over an uncertain state of America isn't helping either. An unstable economy along with an ongoing war that has no end in sight also may be contributing to poor concert attendance.
"I don't really think it's like Norah Jones is not having people come to her shows. We're in a war right now. There's an election coming up that is very, very incredibly strange. The main places that we've had to downsize are very military towns actually. I think that has a lot to do with the places where we've downsized.
"Well hey, we didn't have to cancel anything."
Norah Jones plays Oct. 22 at Savvis Center, 1401 Clark Ave. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show range from $26.50 to $56.