When Norah Jones’ debut CD, “Come Away With Me,” was released nearly two years ago, it floated into record stores with little fanfare and no hype.
Two years, eight Grammys and eight million albums later, the Tuesday release of Jones’ follow-up, “Feels Like Home,” has become an event. Her cherub face has adorned countless articles in major publications, VH1 made the disc available for listening on the Internet a week ago, and major ads are trumpeting the record.
All to Jones’ dismay.
“They’re running TV commercials and silly stuff like that,” says a slightly frustrated Jones, sitting in a conference room at her label, Blue Note Records, during a day of media interviews.
“Why do you need a TV commercial for a CD? I don’t understand that. It just scares me that they’re going to be too in your face. I don’t want people to get sick of it.”
That’s unlikely — people aren’t even sick of her last album yet.
On the current Billboard 200 pop chart, “Come Away With Me” is lodged at No. 25 — astounding for a disc that was released a year earlier. For a little perspective, even 2003’s top-selling disc, 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” isn’t even in the top 50.
Though Jones has become a mainstream artist, she returns to her quirky roots on “Feels Like Home,” which has low-key, rootsy sensibilities. The biggest departure may be its twangy, country touches — Dolly Parton even duets on one song. Jones, a longtime Parton fan, says she and her bandmates were listening to a lot of bluegrass and country while making the record last year.
“The song that Dolly’s on, it wasn’t ever going to go on the album, because it was definitely a different kind of thing, and we thought it was it would stick out too much,” she says. But “everybody loved it, and it was so fun, and we just thought, what the hell, let’s just put it on.”
For “Home,” Jones reunited with producer Arif Mardin and made her band — including boyfriend Lee Alexander — the main backing sound. She also co-wrote more songs, a sign of the new control Jones is exercising over her career.
“I’ve always been really opinionated, but I’ve become super- opinionated lately,” she giggles. “I try to do it in a nice way, but like, with my own career, it’s my own thing. I talk to my manager, and I say, we need to do this, this is not cool. The poor label, they hate me. I have to approve everything that goes out.”
'The anti-diva'Bruce Lundvall, Blue Note’s president, says that despite Jones’ hesitance about some of the marketing for the new record — she demanded that certain aspects be scaled back to cut down on hype — Jones has approved everything.
“She is the anti-diva,” he says. “You don’t want to do things that are crass and over the top; we want to do things with sensitivity. She doesn’t want us to say, 'The greatest album ever.”’
Still, the disc is being given the big push. Besides making the album available for listening on the Internet, VH1 is playing the video 50 times a week for two weeks — normally, the most popular video gets played 20 times per week.
“Come Away With Me” made Jones the biggest music phenomenon in years. Jazzy with a folk sensibility, the album wasn’t even expected to sell 100,000 copies. Yet Jones’ sexy, smoky vocals on the album’s first single, “Don’t Know Why,” resonated with listeners, especially older ones. It became a word-of-mouth hit — despite never getting major radio play from mainstream radio.
The album “is one of the most remarkable examples of if you put something on the air, people will respond,” said Rita Houston of the New York City radio station WFUV, which played Jones before the pop world took notice. “Now all the radios stations, they’re all there.”
The disc’s eight Grammys — including best album, record of the year for “Don’t Know Why” and best new artist for Jones — made it a must-have for millions. It’s unusual for an artist to launch another album when their first is still high on the charts. But Jones — who told The Associated Press last year that she was ready to move on — isn’t concerned about competing with herself.
“I don’t really care. I mean, if my new album comes out, and the old one sells more than it, I think that will be kind of weird and sad,” she says, laughing.
Given the early buzz on “Feel Like Home,” she need not worry. More than a million copies have been pre-ordered.
“I have very high sales expectations,” says Lundvall. However, he emphasized that he wasn’t looking for her to top the success of her debut disc.
“I’m not going to say it’s going to do better than the last one, that would be foolish — we’re already at 17 million (worldwide).”
While much has been made about the sophomore jinx suffered by quirky singers with smash debut albums — such as Alanis Morissette, Tracy Chapman, Lauryn Hill and Paula Cole — Jones insists she’s not worried.
“I’ve also thought back to some of my favorite artists — not every album was a success, but that’s O.K., because they’re still some of my favorite artists,” she says. “I think it’s O.K. to not be successful. I was very successful last year, and I’ve been really lucky, and I don’t know. You can’t expect it every single tune.
“As long as people like it I won’t cry,” she says, giggling yet again. “If nobody likes it, I’d probably cry.”