Review: Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts

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Norah Jones

Little Broken Hearts

(Blue Note)

Chalk up another success for Danger Mouse — sort of.

The producer — also known by his real name, Brian Burton — has reportedly wanted a full-on collaboration with Norah Jones since he drafted her four years ago to sing on Rome, the terrific homage to Italian film scores he recorded with composer Daniele Luppi and finally released last year.

Scheduling conflicts kept the followup teaming on the back burner for a few years, but the fruits of the partnership are now in our hands.

Burton produced and co-wrote, with Jones, the 12 tracks that make up this layered and atmospheric disc. In his role behind the console, he has added a smart, crisp, keyboard-centric sheen that elevates occasionally pedestrian material.

When people say that records have become a producer’s — rather than a songwriter’s — medium, this is a pretty fine example of what they mean. Jones was encouraged to arrive in the studio without actual songs. Creating was done on the fly, as the two talked, listened to music and tried out ideas.

For the most part, the results work. Catchy touches like the simple, three-note phrase that defines “Say Goodbye” and the strings and music-box twinkle in “After the Fall” anchor these unsettling, dreamy breakup songs. (It was not surprising to find out that Jones went through a romantic split at the outset of the sessions.)

There’s darkness in the Twin Peaks bump and grind of “4 Broken Hearts” and in the shimmering guitar of “Little Broken Hearts” (sense a theme?), a slightly psychedelic effort that almost sounds like a more polite Doors. Things even take a seriously nasty turn in “Miriam,” a song with a sweet, stately lullaby of a melody that contrasts wickedly with the chilling revenge tale in the lyrics.

And that’s pretty much the modus operandi for the entire disc — human relationships seem hopeless, but the music that paints their portraits is oddly cheerful.

If there’s a fly in the ointment, it’s that some of the songs are too easily forgettable, which is nothing particularly new in the Jones oeuvre. The undistinguished, sedate “Travelin’ On” and the uninspiring “Take It Back” are among the tracks that slow down the momentum.

But in the end, most of Little Broken Hearts wins you over by making the sadness kind of sweet.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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