"Visions," Norah Jones

"Visions," Norah Jones (Blue Note)

It might be tempting to view Norah Jones’s latest, excellent LP “Visions” as the logical counterpart to 2020’s almost-as-excellent “Pick Me Up Off The Floor.” The latter’s dour vibe turned out to be a valuable companion in a time when the world endured its own dour vibes as it shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her new effort, meanwhile, opens the shades that kept the darkness inside and allows in a healthy dose of sun — as well as a much-needed shot of optimism.

Yet while that may suggest the two sets are yinning and yanging their way in concert, the perfect precursor to these 12 songs is actually her magnum opus, 2009’s “The Fall.” Whereas that sad, lonely effort proved to be a perfect soundtrack to the autumn and winter months during which it was released, “Visions” feels ideal for the spring and summer seasons, serving as a welcome smile for someone who doesn’t do much of it. Her First Lady of Gen Z Alt Rock aura is still there and the music is equally as fuzzy as the tracks that make her better moments better than others’ best, but the doom and gloom that sprinkles some of her most memorable albums are traded in for more expansive, almost existential thinking.

Or, for that matter, the desire to dance.

Case in point: The aptly titled “I Just Wanna Dance.” Jangly in nature and low-key in energy, it sums up the entirely of “Visions” as a more-fun-than-you-think collection, complete with embedded horns and Southern Funk organ riffs. Plus, it’s mindless. Jones, to her credit, vocally does little more than repeat the track’s title, occasionally noting how she doesn’t want to either talk or laugh about “it” as a precursor. Whatever “it” is, this song makes it sound like “it” was never needed in the first place.

That evolution begins from the start here. “All This Time” is a hopefully yearning R&B jaunt lush with backing harmonies and simple drums that could transport listeners to the best parts of ‘70s soul, complete with obligatory falsetto. Single “Paradise” follows that same template with a poppier edge that evokes “Last Time I Saw Him”- era Diana Ross. Jones’s piano playing is scrumptious on it as she trades in virtuosity for taste.

Actually, that’s probably the set’s secret ingredient: While Jones can hang with the best of today’s pop pianists, she’s actually better when she focuses on The Song rather than The Talent. “On My Way” is a fruitful left turn that embodies the dreamy aesthetics the singer was going for when she sat down to write the album (word has it that most of the ideas painting these songs came to Jones in the middle of the night as she was sleeping). “Running,” meanwhile, is simple and charming with the way Jones leans heavily on the call-and-response attack to vocals. And then there’s “Queen Of The Sea,” which is the type of garage blues that has become her signature in recent years.

It adds up to an impressive second outing for the singer and producer Leon Michels, who came over from working with the late Sharon Jones to initially begin collaborating with Norah on her 2021 Christmas album, “I Dream Of Christmas.” That holiday set marked a fuzzy, blurry change in sound for the songstress and those values only increase with each spin here. It makes the future exciting because while “Visions” is a welcome collection, it leaves the feeling that these two have only scratched the surface of what they can do together.

“You get lost, you get found,” Jones sings on the memorable final track, “That’s Life,” before ending the stanza with the regressing, “You break up, you break down.” Turns out, in the case of Norah Jones, sometimes breaking down can lead to seeing clearer than perhaps even she ever thought possible.

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