Billy Joe Armstrong + Norah Jones "Foreverly"
Billy Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones recreate a classic Everly Brothers album.
In 1958, with their rock and roll star rising, Phil and Don Everly took an unusual turn. They released Songs Our Father Taught Us, an album of traditional music. The brother’s harmonies elevated songs by Tex Ritter, Gene Autry, and ballads that rang down through generations of Appalachian families. It was a risky move but sometimes an artist has to answer to his muse. The album was a heartfelt effort that emanated from childhood memories and the years the lads spent performing with their father.
Fast forward to 2013; Green Day singer Billy Joe Armstrong is heavily immersed in the music of the Everly Brothers, particularly Songs Our Father Taught Us. So inspired is he that he decides to record the album, song for song. Instead of teaming with another male vocalist, Armstrong contacts casual acquaintance Norah Jones to join him on the recording, explaining that a woman’s voice would broaden the meaning of the songs.
Norah Jones and Armstrong, at first pass, might seem an unlikely pairing, but we’ve seen this kind of genre-mixing work before - consider Grammy Award winners Jack White and Loretta Lynn, or Lyle Lovett and Al Green. Jones is a native Texan who long ago moved beyond the confines of easy-listening jazz. She’s released two albums with her country band The Little Willies, and has toured with Willie Nelson. Armstrong is the revelation here. Although he lacks the vocal range of the Everly Brothers, his vocals are unassumingly sweet. Jones’ smoky timber softens his rougher edges. Both play multiple instruments with Armstrong laying down the twanging guitar rhythms and taking a turn at the pump organ. Jones plunks along on piano, banjo, and a variety of other instruments.
The album’s arrangements are vintage country, with simple melody lines that play below the duo’s vocals. “Lightning Express,” a ballad about a dying mother, is played for its sentimental value with chimes, tinkling piano, and weeping pedal steel. Many of the album’s songs are mellow contemplations of murder and mortality, as traditional music will be, so the tempo compliments the themes. “Oh So Many Years” adds a modern twist to a country standard. Armstrong gets more lead time but Jones takes the lead on “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail.”
Occasionally a touch of rockabilly slips into the mix, particularly on “Roving Gambler” and “Long Time Gone” but these moments are fleeting. The pair joked that if they reteam for a rockabilly record they will call it “Norahbilly.” I hope they do because it is always a delight when musicians refuse to be defined by only one genre.
Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)