For the Good Times

For the Good Times

In 2003 a group of friends convened at New York City’s Living Room to play their take on country music classics. Dubbing themselves the LITTLE WILLIES (their initial intent was to play only Willie Nelson songs), they decided the gig was so successful that they might as well record an album, which was released in 2006. All of this would have been a blip on the barroom radar if one of those friends hadn’t been Norah Jones, whose Texas upbringing gave her more of a claim to C&W than the rest of the band, which included her longtime associate and romantic partner Lee Alexander on bass. The project seemed in every respect a one-off, so the follow-up, FOR THE GOOD TIMES (Milking Bull/EMI), is surprising, especially given the 2007 dissolution of Jones and Alexander’s relationship. (Alexander, who was all over Jones’s first three albums, didn’t appear on her fourth, 2009’s The Fall .) Yet here the band is, armed with another arsenal of country chestnuts. The up-tempo honky-tonks are for the most part embarrassing; front man Richard Julian is just not a country singer. Yet Jones, who continues to expand her musical palate (recent collaborators include Danger Mouse and Elmo), adapts nicely, applying a hint of drawl to her rich vocals. It’s great to hear her belt out Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” and Ralph Stanley’s “I Worship You” and purr her way through Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Scott Wiseman’s “Remember Me.” As for the rest, well, this is a bunch of friends having a good time; chances are they had a lot more fun than you will.

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