Norah Jones, inspired by a movie poster and songs of women done wrong

"Little Broken Hearts" is Norah Jones' best album since her '02 debut. CHARLES SYKES / AP
"Little Broken Hearts" is Norah Jones' best album since her '02 debut. CHARLES SYKES / AP
Posted: June 29, 2012

Norah Jones and Brian Burton, the producer who is also known as Danger Mouse, recorded Jones' sterling new album, Little Broken Hearts, in Burton's Los Angeles studio.

The album, which is Jones' best and most distinctive since her Grammy-grabbing, mega-selling debut, Come Away With Me, in 2002, conveys a coolly retro-pop feel touched with a hint of darkness, and even menace, which is surprising coming from the sweet, sultry, and sometimes soporific Jones, who plays the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Fairmount Park Thursday night.

The album was a truly collaborative creative process between Jones and Burton, who first worked together on Rome, the 2011 tribute to Ennio Morricone's spaghetti-western movie music. It was shaped by Burton's predilection for vintage instruments and what Jones calls the "weird sounds" that nudge her away from her soy latte/coffeehouse comfort zone.

Little Broken Hearts was also affected, Jones said in an interview last month from her home in Brooklyn, by a movie poster hanging on the studio wall.

"It was the Russ Meyer Mudhoney poster. I could not stop looking at it," the 33-year-old songwriter says. The poster for the 1965 film by the sexploitation director features a tousled-hair close-up of the actress Lorna Maitland. (The movie also inspired the 1990s Seattle grunge band Mudhoney.)

"I wanted to grow my hair out like hers, and I thought it was such an interesting image, I kept staring at it. … She's a little scary, she's a little vulnerable, she's a little everything. She kind of made her way into the music."

The Little Broken Hearts cover homage replaces the poster's words "…?Leaves a Taste of Evil!" with the album title, but doesn't substitute anything for the movie's claim to be "…?a film of ribaldry and violence made from the juice of life!"

"The album is so cinematic. That's what Brian does so well," Jones says of her producer friend Burton. He's known for his work with Cee Lo Green in the duo Gnarls Barkley, and earlier made his name with the 2004 Beatles-and-Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album.

Little Broken Hearts is Jones' second consecutive breakup album, including the more unfocused The Fall (2009), following her split from longtime boyfriend Lee Alexander. (Sorry, fellas — the singer, who is the daughter of sitarist Ravi Shankar and Texas music promoter Sue Jones, who raised her — has a new musician boyfriend, though she won't reveal his name.)

The album never gets ribald, but amid deceptively upbeat, lyrically downcast songs like the hooky "Happy Pills" and "She's 22," it does have an episode of arresting violence.

"Miriam, that's such a pretty name?/?I'm gonna say it when I make you cry," Jones begins quietly in the effectively understated "Miriam," in which a wronged woman takes fatal revenge. "You know you done me wrong, I'm going to smile when I take your life."

"People either laugh or get really uncomfortable when they hear that one," Jones says about "Miriam," which was inspired by country songs she's covered with her side project the Little Willies. "We do ‘Jolene,' where Dolly Parton is begging, and ‘Fist City,' where Loretta Lynn is threatening to punch you, and ‘Delia,' where Johnny Cash is killing her. It was inspired by those kind of songs."

Jones and Burton briefly got together in 2009 to work on what was to become Little Broken Hearts, and then did the lion's share of the work on it in a matter of weeks last summer.

"What I love about it is it's really a piece, it really fits together well," Jones says of her fifth solo album. "There's something about writing all the songs in such a short period of time. They all connect. I didn't go into it trying to write a concept album. But I feel like they came out that way."

Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or deluca@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/inthemix.


Music   Norah Jones  Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, 5201 Parkside Ave. Tickets: $29.50-$59.50. Contact: manncenter.org or 800-745-3000.

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