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MUSIC REVIEW

A riveting set from Norah Jones

MANSFIELD -- Those who derisively refer to singer Norah Jones as "Snorah Jones" have always misunderstood her considerable appeal.

Perhaps compared to performers who need to gyrate and scream to make their point, Jones and her gentle ballads may seem best suited for lulling a baby to sleep, but it's short-sighted to brand her understated style as boring. In fact, it's the simplicity of her approach that makes her nothing short of radical.

Yes, radical. Many concerts these days are as fussy and overstuffed as a Las Vegas revue, but Jones has no need for such empty spectacle. During her performance Tuesday at the Tweeter Center, there were no costume changes, no dancers, and no Jerry Lee Lewis-style assaults on her piano. Backed by her solid five-piece Handsome Band, Jones allowed her graceful voice and accomplished musicianship to carry her 90-minute set, which combined songs from her two best-selling albums, plus a few covers.

On record, Jones's voice can come across as merely pleasant; live, her singing is much more soulful and affecting. That was apparent as Jones opened with "What Am I to You?," one of the strongest tracks from her latest album, "Feels Like Home." Onstage, the song was more muscular and substantial, deepening its melancholy as its friskier arrangement toned town the tune's country affectations.

Jones was also greatly aided by guitarists Andy Levy and Robbie McIntosh, who traded lines and leads, allowing such songs as "Those Sweet Words," "Carnival Town," and "The Long Way Home" to breathe and stretch out.

Not that Jones shied from the down-home aspects of her music. A highlight was "Creepin' In," which on her album is a duet with Dolly Parton but here was performed with backup singer Daru Oda. Of course, this is music that skates among pop, jazz, and country, so Jones was just as comfortable with "Don't Miss You at All," her interpretation of Duke Ellington's instrumental "Melancholia," which she performed with just her voice and piano.

Jones spent a surprising amount of time away from her piano. The reticence that once marked her performances has faded, and she displayed an easy, self-effacing humor. After performing her breakthrough hit, "Don't Know Why," she told her audience about singing a modified version -- "Don't Know Why `Y' -- to Elmo on "Sesame Street." She was even introduced, via video, by Hank Hill, the patriarch of the animated Fox TV series "King of the Hill" who cautioned the crowd that Jones once attacked an audience member whose cellphone went off during her performance.

Jones closed her set with a somewhat disjointed cover of The Band's "Life Is a Carnival" but recovered for her encore, which featured the delicious "Turn Me On."

Opening for Jones was Philadelphia-based folk-soul singer Amos Lee, whose fine 30-minute set featured songs from his Blue Note Records debut, scheduled for release next year.

Norah Jones
With Amos Lee
At: Tweeter Center, Mansfield, Tuesday night

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