Norah Jones’ Puss N Boots – Her Best Project Ever?
Is Puss & Boots the best project Norah Jones has ever been involved with? It’s definitely the most fun. Jones, guitarist/singer Sasha Dobson and bassist Catherine Popper are obviously having a blast playing their devious mix of oldschool C&W, honkytonk and a little retro rock, and all of it is contagious. Which it ought to be. Who would have thought that a group that began as a way for Jones to mess around under the radar would evolve this far? The trio are playing Sunny’s bar in Red Hook tonight, June 20 at 9ish, presumably as a warmup for their big gig at the Bell House (which has been their more-of-less official home lately) on July 15 at 8:30. Advance tix for that one are $25 and highly recommended.
And who would have thought that the three would eventually make an album? They assuredly didn’t record No Fools, No Fun for the money (which might have a lot to do with why it’s so fresh and entertaining). Popper has a money gig with a big-ticket arena rock band. Dobson has her choice of gigs on the jazz or folkie circuit, which Jones will be able to play for the rest of her life. So why do this? Maybe just for the love of it.
You could call this a younger, more irreverent counterpart to the Dolly Parton/Loretta Lynn/Linda Ronstadt albums. Much as Jones gets all the props for her voice, Dobson is no slouch at country and neither is Popper. What jumps out is how good, and how purist, a country guitarist Jones is – and Dobson, who’s just as eclectic and jazz-inclined as Jones, makes a good foil. Most of the songs feature three-part harmonies and they are as energetic and sassy as you would expect. The opening track, Leaving London has the three singing in unison; then they trade verses and max out the rodeo innuendos on Bull Rider, a Freudian shuffle. Dobson gives the ballad Twilight an especially forlorn edge; the group follows with the good-natured waltz Sex Degrees of Separation, which as it turns out isn’t remotely x-rated.
Jones’ garage rock guitar pairs off with Popper’s slinky, soaring bass on the Texas shuffle Don’t Know What It Means. Their live take of Neil Young’s Down by the River sstarts as if they’re going to do Pink Floyd’s Breathe instead (both songs have the same chords on the verse), Popper slinking around during an amusingly primitive guitar solo that the crowd loves anyway. The blend of voices on the slow honkytonk ballad Tarnished Angel are especially fetching until they hit an unexpected joke – no spoiler here.
They do Jesus Etc. as laid-back but purposeful stoner alt-country (sounds like an oxymoron, but you have to hear it). Likewise, they fake their way through the changes on the briskly shuffling, clanging and twanging Always. GTO, a detour toward Eilen Jewell-tinged ghoulabilly, is the album’s darkest and arguably best song. After Pines, a sketchy indie-folk number, the album winds up with the slow honkytonk tune You’ll Forget Me, the only place on the album where Popper actually gets to take a solo, keeping it terse and lowdown. Chemistry and cameraderie is all over the place here – who says supergroups can’t get along? The album’s not out yet so no Spotify link yet – watch this space.