Music Reviews

Norah Jones sang that?

Norah Jones sang that?

At 31, Norah Jones is no-questions-asked sublime. Ten Grammys (and seven nominations) make her a formidable presence commercially. Also critically – even that curmudgeon Robert Christgau acquiesced: “What’s not to like?” Her versatility makes her a coveted collaborator to artists, genre no bar. And so, as we listened to album after album that Jones has served up since her not-quite-jazz-but-getting-there-in-a-hurry début Come Away With Me, which swept eight Grammys in 2003, we may have overlooked her off-road excursions. …Featuring fixes that jig-saw bit back in place.

Before the beards – ZZ Top’s Fandango!

Before the beards – ZZ Top’s Fandango!

Walking a fine tightrope between the live and studio sounds, and maintaining continuity with the previous album, Fandango! became a watershed record in ZZ Top’s career. Bands with a big stage sound often betray themselves when they enter the studio but ZZ Top had figured their way around that. Fandango! also coincided with a time when the band’s trademark beards started to appear.

Don’t shoot the trombonist – how Sinatra got even with Dorsey

Don’t shoot the trombonist – how Sinatra got even with Dorsey

Crime writer Anthony Bruno, chronicling Sinatra’s links with the mob, writes of how the crooner found a godfather in New Jersey gangster Willie Moretti after his stint with the quartet Hoboken Four ended. Impressed with Sinatra’s talent, he gave him a break to sing at his casinos. Sinatra, Bruno writes, could “talk” the lyric as if he was speaking directly to his listeners, and this made him a heartthrob of the teenage female fans known as “bobbysoxers”. Sinatra was still making hits with James when he got his next big break in 1940 with the “Sentimental Gentleman of Swing”, trombonist and bandleader Tommy Dorsey. Formerly of the Dorsey Brothers, the temperamental perfectionist had sacked brother Jimmy and renamed his band to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Dorsey, aware that his band did not have a classical jazz sound, invited Sinatra to infuse the missing element of swing.

Taylor Swift – three times lucky

Taylor Swift – three times lucky

As with precocious artists who need an unsolicited rush of celebrity to launch them from pedestrian fame to glittering stardom, Taylor Swift’s ratings shot up after her acceptance speech at the 2009 Video Music Awards was rudely interrupted. Rapper Kanye West, not known for good manners, stormed the stage halfway through her limelight moment saying that Beyonce deserved the award instead. Though Beyonce later invited Swift on stage to finish her acceptance speech, the incident made West the laughing stock of the entertainment circuit and even the White House (Obama reportedly called him a jackass). It also made Swift palatable to the media. The 14 songs on Speak Now aim mischievous arrows at her exes by smartly stepping clear of lyrical clichés. Swift has said that her relationships offer copious grist for songwriting. “Better than Revenge” has her snarling cattily at a girl who stole her boyfriend. The line “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with” in “Dear John” is rumoured to be a swipe at John Mayer, on whose recent album Swift sang two lines. Those apart, there are fine touches in “Back to December”, “Speak Now” and “Haunted”.