Following on from the indie pop of Little Broken Hearts and the collaborative Foreverly with Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong, Norah Jones finds herself heading way back to her roots. Day Breaks is first and foremost a jazz album, with minimal arrangements and a sophisticated air quite different to many of her more recently enjoyable albums. However, it falls short of being the full quality package that Jones is capable of delivering.
If slow, smooth lounge jazz is to your liking, Day Breaks is for you. It mixes an array of original material from Jones with three covers of artists like Duke Ellington and Neil Young, offering her take on these classic songs along with her revitalised take on the genre. There are a few songs that mix in rock or folk vibes, such as Don’t Be Denied, Flipside or the title track, but jazz is the common denominator that ties the album together, often with nothing more than a piano and double bass to drive the song. This is especially true of Burn, the slow building track that opens the album, relying on nothing more than these two instruments for the majority of the track before a horn solo comes in near the end, making for the first break in style. It’s a cohesive collection, with even the soft rock tracks being low key enough to merge with the jazz seamlessly, but this also helps to contribute to the main problem behind Day Breaks.
The plodding monotony of the album is too prominent to ignore. It’s an album perfect for playing in the background or listening to while relaxing, but doesn’t lend itself to active listening, where songs begin to blur together and they start sounding even more similar than first expected. The more upbeat jazz style of Once I Had a Laugh breaks the mood up nicely in its late stages with its extended use of horns rather than focusing solely on the piano, and the title track Day Breaks is the strongest of the soft rock songs thanks to the strings thrown into the mix as the song builds to a close giving it a much more striking mood, but outside of these the album doesn’t do much to assert its presence or truly make itself known.
Day Breaks is solid at what it does, providing laid back jazz music to play while doing other things, but feels a little too similar for its own good. It’s a drastic change for people that found her during the Little Broken Hearts era especially, where Jones was at her most pop sounding moment, though this isn’t really a source for its issues. With finer tuning, it could have felt more like a striking, sophisticated album than a one take live jazz session, but as it stands it’s a very situationally enjoyable collection of songs.