Norah Jones jettisoned her longtime boyfriend, her longtime band (he was in it) and her long, frizzy hair.
Then, when she got to St. Paul Wednesday for a sold-out concert, the made-over New Yorker had to borrow an emerald green top from a new band mate for St. Patrick's Day. Like the top, Jones' performance of her newer material at the O'Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University didn't seem quite lived in.
She and her new band did not consistently jell on the 10 or so tunes from 2009's "The Fall," her breakup album that attempts to modernize her mega-selling coffeehouse jazz.
However, when the 30-year-old pianist-guitarist, who defined adult-pop in the '00s, did her old hits and cover songs, she seemed like a different person who not only lived up to her stylish new look (modified bob 'do with a lace sweater, spandex pants and peek-a-boo high heels) but performed with confidence, personality and simmering emotions.
Jones got warmed up on Hank Williams' chillingly jazzy "Cold Cold Heart," picked up the pace on Johnny Cash's jaunty "Cry Cry Cry" and drove it all home with a solo piano reading of "Love Me," which walked the line between Patsy Cline and Jerry Lee Lewis. Afterward, Jones admitted that this was the first time she'd ever done this Elvis Presley tune solo because she usually plays it with her country side project, the Little Willies. (She spent most of her youth in Dallas, and there has always been a languid country vibe to her sound.) Her performance of the Elvis classic earned the evening's most vociferous response -- the kind of whoops and whistles associated with green-beer drinkers, not latte sippers.
Those covers came during Jones' best stretch of the night, which also included her reimagined breakthrough hit "Don't Know Why," with her tenderly elegant piano and longing three-part vocal harmonies. On a roll, the Grammy-grabbing goddess of downbeat country/blues/jazz triumphed by stepping out of character for her pirate cabaret ditty "Sinkin' Soon" and "Carnival Town," which suggested a minimalist Tom Waits.
Another highlight of the 90-minute set was a refreshing collaboration of Hank Williams' lyrics set to Jones' music -- "How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart," featuring an enthralling vocal quartet doing country-gospel harmonies at one microphone, seasoned by Smokey Hormel's Mexican-flavored steel-body guitar. That performance was the master of restrained melancholy at her heartaching best.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719