Review: Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Jones – “Foreverly”

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To address the obvious question right from the start: yes, you’re reading this right. Billie Joe Armstrong, best known as the frontman for pop-punk progenitors Green Day has released a new collaboration album with Norah Jones and it sounds incredible. The progression makes more sense than may initially meet the eye – in the years since their fall from grace, Green Day has put on a Broadway production, and released an enormous amount of material that nobody has purchased – including four albums last year alone. Needless to say, Billie has been running out of directions to run with original material.

ForeverlyCD

It’s hard to say what the most intriguing part of the Foreverly story is. The album gives a face-lift to The Everly Brothers’ 1958 vocal country album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us – which was actually a collection of covers of old folk-country standards taught to the brothers by their musician father. While it might be tempting to call this a cover album of a cover album, a single spin through the twelve-song collaboration is more of a testament to the continuing power of these songs than a cheap rip-off.

The addition of a female vocalist to round out the duo was suggested by Billie Joe’s wife – he had been spinning the record continuously and managed to reach out to Norah, a new friend he’d made when they both sang with Stevie Wonder. (The 90’s called, Billie. They’re as confused as we are). The interplay of a male and female voice – instead of two brothers – adds an interesting context to the songs as well, especially when Norah and Billie are given individual chances to sing – a rare occurrence during the album, which is beautifully performed in harmony almost all the way through.

The album finds an excellent balance between paying homage to the Everly Brothers’ original compositions and bringing a modern touch to the songs. The basic structure of all twelve songs stays intact – lyrics are kept whole, the songs are performed in the same keys, and for the most part the guitar melodies are untouched. The album’s strength comes in the simple additions made: the presence of Norah’s signature jazzy piano stretches and small segments of harmonica, fiddle and swelling strings that add tone and depth to the album’s mood.

Standout tracks include the first single, “Long Time Gone” which has an infectious country/blues twang; the harmonica-soaked album-opener, “Roving Gambler”; the gorgeous down-tempo ballad “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet”; and the completely re-vamped “Rockin’ Alone (In An Old Rockin’ Chair)” which puts Norah’s piano skills to work, allowing a sad song to hit even closer to home. The album closes on a very slow note, with a few down-tempo ballads (including a love song for Kentucky) on the back-half of the record.

The best part of the album is that the duo manages to replicate that signature, harmony-heavy Everly Brothers sound – an impressive feat, especially for someone who’s used to snarling snotty pop-punk lyrics over high-speed riffs. The addition of two studio musicians (bass and drums) helped to add subtle touches to really give a sense of continuity to the songs – upgrading them to the standard of 2013’s production value without compromising their content to do so.

By: Andrew Bell