Norah Jones has never hid her affection for country music. Her Grammy-winning 2002 debut album "Come Away With Me" - which has sold 23 million units worldwide - featured a compelling cover of Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart."
She's also been nominated for Grammys for duets with Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson - the latter of whom inspired the name for the long-running country band Jones has been performing in for more than 10 years.
The Little Willies' second album, "For The Good Times" - a Kris Kristofferson composition made into a country standard by Ray Price - once again puts a loose-yet-sophisticated spin on several old-school classics.
Truly a group project, the Little Willies focus on individual musicianship and ensemble interaction. Guitarist Jim Campilongo especially, is single-note-style treasure; bassist Lee Alexander, guitarist-singer Richard Julian, and drummer Dan Rieser also return and make important contributions. Julian occasionally takes lead vocals, sounding especially effective on the great, rarely covered Willie Nelson ballad, "Permanently Lonely."
"For The Good Times" lacks the freewheeling fun of the Little Willies' 2006 self-titled debut. Still, the imaginative updates on songs by Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn and Parton reach beyond careful reverence or tongue-in-cheek country posturing, translating classic tunes in a way that shows off Jones' sly phrasing and the musical talents of her band mates.
Check out this track: "Lovesick Blues," a Tin Pan Alley song written by Cliff Friend and Irving Mills, has been sung and recorded a zillion times since Hank Williams made it the first top hit of his career in 1949. Yet Jones and Julian, in a relaxed yet remarkably sung duet, make it come alive again.