Monday, July 21, 2014

Puss n Boots - No Fools, No Fun, Norah Jones' Side Project Has Made Her Most Fun Album Ever


I've been hooked on Norah Jones' music ever since she appeared on the World Cafe radio program and I saw her play live at NYC's The Fez back in 2002, several months before the release of her first album. That groundbreaking work won eight Grammy Awards, sold millions of copies, and Come Away With Me placed on my list of the Top Ten Albums of the New Millennium.

Puss n Boots is a side project band consisting of Norah and two of her New York singer-songwriter musician friends, Sasha Dobson and Catherine (Cat) Popper. They started playing together, strictly for fun and their love of country music, in 2008. The concept was covers of cool country songs. I literally stumbled onto a performance at Rockwood Music Hall in October of 2008.

This band was so good and the songs they chose were so much fun that I came back up to NYC from Philadelphia to see them a total of four times over the next few weeks. Puss n Boots took a few years off while Cat played bass for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. For the last couple of years, they have been quite active playing the NY clubs with live videos flooding Youtube, in a good way.

Ever since fall 2008 I've been hoping that Norah would take this band and make a record as she did with her similar male-dominated side project, The Little Willies. That day, ladies and gentleman, is here; No Fools, No Fun was just released on Blue Note Records.


No Fools, No Fun


I'm loving this record. There's the simple production that sounds no different from hearing them play live (three tracks are actually recorded live). I love the song selection, songs like "Bull Rider" written by Rodney Crowell, which I remember them playing back in 2008. There is an Amazon deluxe version of the album with two exclusive bonus tracks including Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry".

Watch "Bull Rider" (Live From The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY / 2013)




One of my musical weaknesses is the combination of a sweet female vocal with electric guitar; it works every time, even moreso when the material is good, as with every track on No Fools, No Fun. Norah's electric guitar leads the band on every song. Here is the instrumentation.

Norah Jones - Vocals, Electric Guitar, Fiddle.
Sasha Dobson - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Drums.
Catherine Popper - Vocals, Bass, Acoustic Guitar.

Neil Young's "Down By the River" is a totally unexpected treat, Norah does a killer (!) vocal while the band does their best Crazyhorse.

Watch "Down By the River"




When Norah released Come Away With Me the most immediate striking thing about it were the two covers of old country standards, written by Hank Williams and Hoagy Carmichael. It was pure genius in performance and production to have a simple arrangement that blended jazz, country, and pop. These songs sounded at the same time revolutionary and completely natural.

The reason is that Norah's voice has a certain timbre and delivery that leads me to the conclusion that Norah was born to sing country music. She sealed the deal in October 2008 in those four Puss n Boots shows. These three artists sound so good together that I could imagine Puss n Boots making a full-on country album of all new material, say a few originals plus the hand picked cream of the current Nashville songwriters, they might have the blockbuster crossover album of a lifetime. Pipedreams aside, I can say without reservation that No Fools, No Fun is my favorite Norah Jones record since Come Away With Me, and it's her most fun record ever.

Watch "Don't Know What It Means"


Watch "Tarnished Angel" (Live From The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY / 2013)



Photos courtesy of Puss n Boots.

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