Radio programmers -- along with a good chunk of the pop music audience -- have been Jonesing for Norah, and now she's back. Her new album, "Feels Like Home," won't be out until Feb. 10, but the first single, "Sunrise," has been sent to radio and this week we'll get the first indicators on how it will be received.
Yet even before her label, Blue Note Records, today starts its formal campaign to get "Sunrise" added to record station playlists, it's a hot commodity at stations with the Album Adult Alternative and Hot Adult Contemporary formats.
Choosing singles is a major challenge with an artist such as Jones, whose low-key music is built on subtle beauty that's virtually the antithesis of the in-your-face pop charm of something like OutKast's "Hey Ya!"
"On the last one, nobody thought 'Don't Know Why' would be as popular as it became," said Zack Hochkeppel, Blue Note's director of marketing. "The new one has so many strong songs, but nothing jumps out as a smash hit. That's not what she's all about."
As a result, Jones' input weighed heavily in the choice of "Sunrise," an affectionate ballad with a touch of sparkle she wrote with bassist Lee Alexander. It should be quickly recognizable to listeners familiar with her five-time Grammy-winning "Come Away With Me" album, which has sold 7.8 million copies in the U.S. since its release in 2002.
But even with that kind of audience base, Hochkeppel says the plan for "Feels Like Home" will anticipate another steady build relying on lots of word-of-mouth and a long shelf life. "Home," however, will certainly have a dramatically bigger first week in stores.
"That's certainly not something Norah cares about," Hochkeppel said. "She's just never been hung up on sales, and it's been weird for her to sell as many records as she has. But to management and to us, we would love it to be the No. 1 record and sell a huge amount."
Because it arrives the week of Valentine's Day, and immediately after the Feb. 8 Grammy Awards telecast, there's little doubt the album will be huge. The only question is how huge.
With the continuing popularity of "Come Away With Me," which sold more than 100,000 copies per week in the two weeks before Christmas, Blue Note might easily have waited a bit longer to bring out "Feels Like Home." But then along came Jones.
"Norah has been playing the music off that first record for three years now," Hochkeppel said, "and she wants desperately to move on and have people hear other music, and see a different photo of her in record stores."