By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
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Not Too Late is Norah Jones's third CD, but the first for which she wrote or co-wrote all the songs. Musically, however, only a handful of folks see it as a significant departure from the 2002 Grammy magnet Come Away With Me and its big-selling successor, 2004's Feels Like Home. Jones is one of them.
"It's still very quiet and intimate, and we use real instruments. It's not electronic or something," she allows, "but I think it's different. It might be subtle, but I think it's still a big change."
In Jones's view, change is good — and in recent years, she's tested this theory by occasionally giving her sweet, accessible persona the night off. Last year, she appeared at a New York City club as the blond-wigged frontwoman for El Madmo, a quasi-satirical punk band, and purred the line "The truth kinda hurts, don't it, motherfucker?" on "Sucker," a track by Mike Patton's Peeping Tom project. Jones concedes that Patton didn't mention the specifics of the "Sucker" lyrics when he first asked her to participate — not that the term bothered her.
"I try not to curse, and I don't believe you have to use profanity in music," she says. "But I'm not an angel. I've been known to curse like a sailor in my life. For me, it wasn't that big of a deal." She adds, "I don't think of myself as having an image or any of that stuff. I try to do things, and if my eight-year-old cousin is allowed to listen to it, I try to make sure it's okay. But I'm sure she's heard that word before, too."
Still, Jones's largest recent step beyond her comfort zone might be her decision to accept the lead role in My Blueberry Nights, the English-language bow of acclaimed Chinese director Wong Kar-wai. Wong is a notorious perfectionist, and the New York Times reported that Jones and co-star Jude Law had to repeat a key kissing scene more than 150 times. "I think that's an exaggeration," Jones maintains. "It was three days, but I don't think it was 150 times. Maybe fifty..."
Whatever the actual number, Jones admits that "the new does wear off after a while," even if the "new" in this case involved repeatedly macking on Jude Law. But she enjoyed making Blueberry, which opened the sixtieth annual Cannes Film Festival (earning mixed to positive reviews), and notes that she'd consider acting in a music-related film if the part seemed to fit. "I like those biopics sometimes. But I don't know if I'd want to be in one," she notes. "I might portray a fictional goofball musician, though. That might be fun."
Whether that would constitute a departure is another matter entirely.