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POP MUSIC REVIEW

It's hot, but Jones stays cool

June 21, 2007|Mikael Wood | Special to The Times

WHEN Norah Jones said she and her bandmates were getting overheated onstage Tuesday at San Diego's Embarcadero Marina Park, she didn't mean it in a musical sense. She meant it literally: They'd spent the day hanging around outside, the 28-year-old explained, and all were sporting fresh sunburns.

Jones, who headlines L.A.'s Greek Theatre tonight, doesn't really do heat. Each a politely infectious cocktail of pop, jazz, blues and country, her three bestselling albums have become permanent fixtures at book club meetings and tony brunch spots precisely because she never allows her desire to express herself to disturb the cool surfaces of her craftily constructed music.

Listeners brought up on the id-privileging yowl of grunge -- listeners of Jones' age, in other words -- view that preference for mood over meaning with suspicion. But her accomplishment is more impressive than it might seem. Can you name another singer with a sound more clearly defined than hers?

At Marina Park, Jones cracked a few jokes at her own expense. "This next one's kind of a lullaby.... Don't fall asleep," she said before playing a tune from this year's "Not Too Late." (The crowd took her advice seriously -- the coffee line ran twice as long as the beer line.) Yet Jones spent the majority of her tidy 95-minute set seemingly unburdened by any pressure to spice up her program. In song after song, she described a vague state of romantic longing while her four-piece band laid down genteel wine-bar grooves anchored by bassist Lee Alexander. (Alexander is Jones' boyfriend, and if the music had any sex appeal Tuesday, it came from the interaction between his playing and Jones' singing.)

Logging thousands of hours on the road since the release of her 2002 debut has given Jones the onstage confidence she once lacked, which helped put the material across, especially when she cleared away the roots-music clutter of which she's become increasingly fond. "Come Away With Me" was a gorgeous (if utterly reasonable) invitation to escape to "fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high," while a version of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" emphasized the understated wit in Williams' lonesome-cowboy classic. Introducing "Sunrise," from 2004's "Feels Like Home," Jones said that Alexander "wrote the smart parts and I wrote the oohs." As oohs go, hers were delectable.

Even so, the exceedingly tasteful pleasures of Jones' music (not unlike the exceedingly tasty pleasures of all-you-can-eat eggs Benedict) have their limits. On Tuesday, muted party music from a nearby bar-on-a-boat wafted through the air, and after about an hour, it took on something of a siren's-call quality. People are out there living it up, you thought, while we're in here just dreaming about it.

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Norah Jones

Where: Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Price: $34.75 to $60

Contact: (323) 665-5857

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