Soothing and wholesome, Norah Jones is the musical equivalent of camomile tea. Or is she? The opening to her show suggested something more sultry and enigmatic. A spotlight picked out Jones in white knee-length dress and high heels as she languidly strummed a red guitar.
Her backing band lurked in the shadows, red velvet drapes hanging behind them. It was like seeing one of David Lynch’s deceptively innocent heroines, an effect heightened by the trembling, breathy atmosphere of her first song, “Come Away with Me”.
But the Lynchian fantasy soon evaporated. There were no Gothic secrets lurking in Jones’s music. Her voice was pure and powerful; her songs were laid-back. A backing quartet brought her soulful pop to life with impeccable tastefulness.
In spite of attempts on her latest album Not Too Late to add a bit of grit to the mix – there’s an anti-Bush song on which she wonders if the US president is “deranged” – Jones can’t help being as smooth and crystal-clear as a high-performance stereo.
As on her albums, she was saved from blandness at Sunday’s concert by the quality of her musicianship. The jazzy pattering drums and piano of “I’ve Got to See You Again” were entrancing, the highlight of her set. “Sinkin’ Soon”, a woozy cabaret number, was reminiscent of Tom Waits.
She is Ravi Shankar’s daughter but the 28-year-old New Yorker’s songs owe their all to the US. “I cherish you my dear country, but sometimes I don’t understand the way we play,” she sang on her anti-Bush song “My Dear Country”, making explicit the patriotism underlying her Americana.
One guesses that Jones, half-outsider and half-insider, does not take her American identity lightly. Yet there was no sense of struggle or complexity in the music itself. For all that the guitarist scrunched up his face during solos, it was impossible not to be touched by these songs.
A cover of Arcade Fire’s apocalyptic “Ocean of Noise” implied that Jones has a yen for darker music, but her rendition showed that she is incapable of tapping into it.