By the time Norah Jones had surprisingly sold millions of copies of her unassuming 2002 debut, "Come Away With Me," and left last year's Grammy night with an armful of trophies, including record and album of the year, the backlash had begun in full.
Haters called her "Snorah," and her lovely breakthrough single, "Don't Know Why," was derided for being as bland as it was ubiquitous. What the naysayers missed was the soothing grace of Jones's quietly soulful voice, which, as with her debut, remains the centerpiece of her sophomore album, "Feels Like Home" (Blue Note). Though Jones never shouts or overwhelms a song for emotional effect, there's an undeniable passion in her vocals, and Jones has become a more confident singer. If her last album had jazz shadings, there's a much more country-dipped feel here.
Her new single, "Sunrise," brings to mind Emmylou Harris, even if its lyrics, co-written by Jones and her boyfriend, bassist Lee Alexander, aren't quite up to Harris's shining vocals. Less precious is "Creepin' In," a jaunty bluegrass duet with the great Dolly Parton, who is so playful and ebullient she allows Jones to loosen up. The result is the album's most delightful track. On another standout track, "What Am I to You?," written by Jones, there's an aching, but never overreaching, melancholy as she sings in the voice of a woman unsure of her lover's feelings. And on her stunning version of Townes Van Zandt's "Be Here to Love Me," Jones's voice is lovely and flawless, perfectly complemented by accordions and organs.
As with her debut, Jones tends toward tempos ranging from slow to slower to slowest, giving some of her songs an indistinguishable sameness. (It's probably best not to listen to parts of this album while operating heavy machinery.) Still, this is a winning follow-up, and since Jones is only 24, there's every indication that she will continue to grow as a musician and songwriter.