It’s been seven years since the first Little Willies release; it was a refreshing take on the endearing attractions of great country music, and now with their second effort, For The Good Times, Norah Jones and The Little Willies offer up another strong collection of country classics. The album title is derived from a Kris Kristofferson tear-jerker of the same name; if you’re not a true country fan you might be misled into thinking The Little Willies have delivered a treasure trove of happy optimism. Rest assured that’s not the case. For The Good Times doesn’t disappoint it contains all the requisite heartbreak, deceit, regret and broken love affairs that are a mainstay of country music, not to mention a realistic outlook on life. In fact, the album could have been named for one of its most successful and moving tracks – Willie Nelson’s “Permanently Lonely”.
Not that the downbeat content is relentless: there’s a delicious version of “Foul Owl On The Prowl” (who knew that Quincy Jones, Marilyn and Alan Bergman could concoct country!), as well as Johnny Cash’s “Wide Open Road” that makes for accelerator-friendly driving music.
The question for true country fans remains: does Norah really have the chops to deliver country as convincingly as Emmylou Harris or K.D. Lang or Patsy Cline? Well, she’s a gifted and moving singer, and this second foray into some marvelous material is intriguing. It’s just not that thrilling compared, say, to the incredible job that Sheryl Crow did with “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” a while back on the Hank Williams tribute album Timeless. And as for Norah’s version of “Lovesick Blues”, she should spend some time listening to the powerhouse offering of Ryan Adams on this little number; it might inspire her to deliver something truly lovesick.
Yet, with so much mainstream respectability on the record, Norah saves the best for last, pulls out all the stops, and delivers a sweet and desperate “Jolene” that easily equals, if not betters, the original. Norah even sounds eerily like Dolly Parton on this cut, while the stellar piano (Norah herself with some marvelous playing) and haunting guitar (James Campilongo on Telecaster) make this a magnificent close to the album. She’s been performing this tune live for some years now, and has perfected a killer version. Great country artists take chances, and with “Jolene”, Norah proves she’s got it in her: she needs to let it out more often.
Brian Miller is the Publisher and co-Editor of Vivascene. A former record store owner and business writer, his interests range from vinyl records and high performance audio to design, photography, and succinct writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org