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After three albums, it's become pretty clear that Norah Jones, who tiptoes into town with a gig at the Chicago Theatre, has no interest in upsetting the apple cart. She sticks to her easygoing formula on her latest, Not Too Late (Blue Note), though there are a few subtle twists: “Sinkin’ Soon” borrows a touch from Tom Waits—dirty retro blues filtered through Weimar cabaret and driven by gutbucket trombone and banjo—though it lacks any sense of menace. The gnawing distrust of her lyrics on “Not My Friend” is matched by distant washes of guitar feedback and splintery bowed cymbals, and she even gets vaguely political on “My Dear Country,” but ultimately she continues to make nice music: pretty, mellow, and exquisitely played.
Seattle's Laura Veirs delivers more intensity in her new album’s very first line—“Sorry I was cruel / I was protecting myself”—than Jones does on her entire record. Maybe that’s why Veirs is playing Schubas Tuesday, while Jones is playing the Chicago Theatre. Veirs's songs are just as melodic, but it sounds like she has more at stake. Her singing takes some getting used to—her blocky and rigid phrasing is straight out of indie rock, where forcing words into bar lines is a matter of efficacy, not art. But if her new album, Saltbreakers (Nonesuch), is any indication, she’s getting better at working with her limitations. The album was produced by drummer Tucker Martine, a guy who’s unusually good at adding careful electronic flourishes to typical rock instrumentation and who can call on some very versatile pals to make effective cameos—guest violist Eyvind Kang brings a haunting ambience to “Ocean Night Song.”