New Release (Milking Bull/EMI)
Superstar Norah Jones belatedly discovers country music with some mostly unknown friends, a jokey band name, and a repertoire heavy on chestnuts. Classic vanity project, right? Not quite. Back in 2006, the Little Willies’ self-titled debut proved a left-field pleasure, one to file alongside the two Knitters albums and Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue. This album is a little different — there’s only one original (an instrumental), and the covers are generally less obvious — but it’s a solid follow-up, sounding warm and informal without slipping into camp. Jones sings country much like she sings jazz, keeping the lyrics as her guide. It’s a pleasure to hear a straight, pleading version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which countless cowpunk bands have played for laughs. (On the other hand, “Fist City” is played quite successfully for laughs, but so was Loretta Lynn’s original.) Still, this really is a band, and guitarist Richard Julian’s folkish voice blends nicely with Jones’s. Their harmonies on the Hank Williams-associated “Lovesick Blues” are a grabber, no matter how many other versions you’ve heard.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.