Album review: No Fools, No Fun – Puss n Boots

Norah Jones’ latest side project is effortless in the wrong way.

Puss n Boots, from left: Sasha Dobson, Norah Jones and Catherine Popper. Richard Ballard
Powered by automated translation

No Fools, No Fun

Puss n Boots

(Blue Note)

Two stars

Norah Jones has been on an experimental trip of late. Perhaps realising she was at risk of becoming synonymous with pleasant dinner-background music, the jazz chanteuse has delved into more challenging side projects in between her successful solo albums.

Her persistent wanderlust finally found expression on one of her records, which probably made her record label a little nervous.

2012's Little Broken Hearts, a musical partnership with producer-of-the-moment Danger Mouse, was a moody and ominous break-up record that shook up her smooth sounds with tinges of fuzzy guitars and electronica.

She followed it last year with one of the unlikeliest of pairings: she hooked up with the Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong to create Foreverly, a tender reinterpretation of The Everly Brothers' 1958 folk-covers album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

Her latest side project, Puss n Boots, may continue her collaborative streak, but it finds Jones on much safer ground. Joining her in the alt-country trio are fellow singers and songwriters Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper.

What began as a group of friends playing together and covering their favourite country tunes back in 2008 led to performing in small clubs, festivals and now their debut album No Fools, No Fun.

None of the intimacy has been lost during the band’s journey and their debut album is pleasant and low-key. The aim here is not to bother the charts, just to document some friendly moments of collaboration. The result is a mix of original songs, covers and some live recordings that range from arresting to soporific.

It kicks off on a high note with the Tom Paxton cover Leaving London. The reinterpretation is sublime, courtesy of a wonderful vocal arrangement in the chorus that truly enhances the beauty of the original.

This is followed by another lovely take, this time on the Johnny Cash classic Bull Rider. Dobson and Jones both swap verses here. The former exhibits some snarl while Jones is more supple. Popper maintains the balance with some pinpoint backing harmony.

As for the original contributions, Dobson's rolling Sex Degrees of Separation stands out, while Jones's Don't Know What it Means gives the album its closest thing to a rock moment, her yearning vocals recalling the power of the Canadian alt-country star Neko Case.

No Fools, No Fun's easy-going manner also works against it. The live track Tarnished Angel and Always seem like afterthoughts and land on the wrong side of effortless, while the final track You'll Forget Me, another Dobson number, is once again lovingly crafted but lacks the emotional punch its lyrics demand.

No Fools, No Fun has its charm, but with a bit more dedication it could have been more than just easy-listening music.