Sell 20 million of your debut album and you suddenly bring a little clout to the table. No one has wielded hers more curiously than NORAH JONES, who followed her elegant Arif Mardin-produced 2002 triumph with a reluctant shrug: a homemade-sounding second album and a barely serious side group with her friends called the Little Willies. Now comes her third, NOT TOO LATE (Blue Note), and Jones seems, at least to some degree, to have rallied the troops. The sound is a bit more radiant, and—something new—Jones herself writes most of the songs. With the exception of the embarrassing “Little Room,” they aren’t so bad, either. A few (“Wish I Could,” “Thinking About You,” “The Sun Doesn’t Like You,” “Be My Somebody”) stick with you, and the Dallas-raised singer slurs and purrs with considerable charm. Still, the playing at times seems amateurish, and Jones’s predilection for dirge-slow material—there’s little resembling an actual tempo here—has a narcotic effect. Would it kill her to cut loose occasionally? Jones clearly has talent; strangely, she seems to be doing her best to hide the fact.
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