Review: Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Jones – Foreverly

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opinion by MATTHEW M.F. MILLER

Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong don’t share the musical kinship of two artists you’d throw into the same playlist, and even in this mono-genre world in which we listen, you’d be hard pressed to find a festival that would put them on the same stage performing back-to-back sets. So the fact that the most popular indie jazz/pop musician maybe ever and the lead singer of Green Day recorded an album together – a country one at that – it is an anomaly of epic proportions. Stir in the mix that their music of choice is a straight-up cover album of one of your grandpa’s favorite bands and you’ve got a lot of nonsense going on here.

In the case of the beautiful if slightly monotonous Foreverly, a collection of songs reinterpreting The Everly Brothers’ 1958 album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, Jones and Armstrong prove that nonsense can be the recipe for quasi-successful musical harmony. To that point, angelic harmonies were the calling card of The Everly Brothers, best known for up-tempo pop classics like “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love” – neither of which you’ll find here. This is a concentrated dose of down-tempo despair that focuses on country standards gloomily hinged on poverty, heartbreak and even murder.

The album came to be after the two met while performing with Stevie Wonder. According to an interview with Stereogum, Armstrong was obsessed Songs Our Daddy Taught Us and, upon deciding to re-record it, his wife suggested he do so with Jones.

Foreverly kicks off with “Roving Gambler”, a rockabilly two-step that’s about as raucous as the album gets. It’s a simple, subversively innocent song that is a rarity in modern music, and while it’s distinctly out of time it’s also fresh on the ears. Once you get past the initial shock of hearing Billie Joe channel his inner Hank Williams, it’s an entirely pleasant affair as Jones and Armstrong stay true to the classic Everly simplicity. “Long Time Gone” is a twang-filled breakup song that clearly influenced the sound of Dwight Yoakam. “Down In The Willow Garden” is a straight-out-of-the-saloon track about a man who murders his true love at the behest of his father. Beauty abounds, but it’s mostly in the sound of the music, and that slow, beautiful sound starts to get dull just past the album’s midway point. Listeners that dig deeper into the lyrics will find a lot of darkness behind the façade, but it does require patience and several repeat listens.

Everything here suits Norah Jones’ style perfectly – her warmth and breathy delivery sound immersed in the pain, always embodying the stories at hand. Armstrong, whose thin voice is far less distinctive in this genre than in the Alt-Rock style, holds his own but doesn’t infuse the material with its original affection. Armstrong’s harmonies never completely meld with Jones’ honey pipes and, unfortunately is voice is almost always the lead and weightier in the mix. Given that perfect harmony is the key to The Everly Brothers catalogue, bringing Norah Jones to the forefront would have made the experience a far sweeter listen.

Foreverly offers many pleasures but would have been easier to swallow as a 6-song EP. Since restraint wasn’t part of the gameplan, listeners would be advised to split the album into two halves to truly enjoy this gorgeous, slow album without losing patience – or falling asleep. [B]

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