"It's a little scary sharing these songs with new people, but we're all friends, right?" asked Norah Jones midway through her hour-long South by Southwest set at La Zona Rosa. The Texas native debuted her upcoming new album Broken Little Hearts in its entirety for the first time last night to an intimate crowd, some of whom waited hours to see the singer.
Jones stuck to the idea of SXSW as a breeding ground for new music, telling Associated Press, "I’m just going to play the new record. I’m not even going to play any old songs because it’s South By Southwest. It doesn’t seem wrong to do it that way. It’s fun. This is a festival. It’s for new bands but it’s also just for new stuff, so it feels right to do the new record." Music industry: please send this quote to every artist you represent.
The 40-minute album is Jones' most personal and introspective of her career; a concept album detailing a painful breakup whose tone last night remained somber and meditative throughout.
Not to say Jones herself was Debbie Downer. The singer joked and chatted with the crowd, discussing her dependence on Mexican food at the festival and reveling in her new black-and-white striped dress.
Still, Broken's lyrics convey a sense of heartache in nearly every song. "She's 22/and she's loving you/Never knew how it makes me blue," Jones sings on "She's 22." On "Happy Pills," Jones sings, "You broke this apart/So pick up your piece and go away from here."
Musically, the album channels Sergio Leone's sweeping Western soundtracks and Angelo Badalamenti's dark, brooding scores, as slow-building, swirling synths blended with slight country twangs. Jones played acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano and wurlitzer, and even when the music picked up, as on "After the Fall," the vibe remained mellow.
At last night's show, though, Jones wasn't lacking for suitors. When one fan asked her on a date, she playfully replied, “I’m taken. No, I’m busy. I’ve got like 20 bands to see. I think we should start the next song.”