Norah Jones is a GRAMMY-winning jazz/pop artist, but country music has always been one of her biggest influences. Following the success of her debut album, Come Away With Me, she and four friends formed the group The Little Willies. Named after Norah’s childhood hero, Willie Nelson[Norah grew up in Texas], the group started performing unannounced shows of country cover songs at a small venue in New York.
“I think I had to leave home for me to know how much country music meant to me,” she told the New York Times. “I listened to Hank Williams, Dolly Parton and Willie growing up, but I wanted to play jazz. When I listened to Bill Evans, I transcribed the chords. When I listened to ‘Red Headed Stranger,’ I just listened to enjoy it. But it really seeped in more than I could have known.”
Almost six years after The Little willies released their debut album, they’re back with a new album, For the Good Times. The album, which hits stores January 10, includes covers of songs by Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. The New York Times asked Norah to create a five-song playlist of her favorite Texas songwriters. Willie Nelson, of course, came in on top. The Little Willies cover Willie’s “Permanently Lonely” on their new album.
“Willie’s songs are deceptively complicated,” Norah said. “He’s like a twisted jazz musician under all that country. He writes these chords that are just beautiful — the way they come together so simply, yet they go against normal forms that you learn as a musician. But he makes them sound so beautiful and simple. You don’t try to that, you just do. And that’s what’s great about Willie: he just does.”
Kris Kristofferson’s “Best of All Possible Worlds” is also on the album and made Norah’s playlist. “Best of All Possible Worlds” is “so much fun because it stacks up a lot of words and a lot of clever lines; it’s so well crafted, but also so soulful,” she said. “That’s the trick to songwriting — you want craft, but you also need soul and honesty. And who’s as inherently soulful as Kris Kristofferson? Look at ‘For the Good Times.’ It’s one of the most heartbreaking, beautiful lyrics ever. If he only wrote those two songs, he’d be on the list. But obviously, he’s given us so much more.”
Townes Van Zandt’s “No Place To Fall,” Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay,” and Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Me” rounded out Norah’s playlist.