To many outside observers, the night of Feb. 23, 2003 should have been the moment of a lifetime for Norah Jones.

That was the night of the Grammys, an evening in which Jones walked away with five of the coveted awards, while her debut CD, Come Away With Me, collected three more Grammys for people who were involved in the project, including songwriter Jesse Harris (for "Don’t Know Why") and producer Arif Mardin.

But amidst the feelings of joy and gratification came a notable amount of uncertainty for Jones.
"I actually was worried," Jones said of her Grammy haul. "I had a feeling of dread at the end of the night, to be honest, because of all the knives that come out when people become very successful, and all the criticism. I don’t really have the stomach for that kind of success. I don’t have the stomach for that kind of windfall from it."

As that quote suggests, Jones, who grew up in Dallas before moving to New York City, where she was honed her singing and piano skills playing in clubs and restaurants, doesn’t seem interested in fame.

In talking with Jones, 25; and reading various interviews where she has reflected on her success; she sounds as if she could do without television appearances, interviews and photo shoots that raise an artist’s profile. She seems reticent to talk about her family (she is the daughter of Indian music star Ravi Shankar, but was raised by her mother).

She has been dating her bassist and sometime-songwriting collaborator, Lee Alexander, for four years, but rarely offers details on their relationship.

Her greatest concern, she said, is that success will infringe on her artistic life.

"Probably my biggest fear is that it will stop me from being creative in the way that I was creative before I even thought about having success, before I even wanted success," she said.

Jones seems to have dealt well with the hype and expectations that came with the success of the first CD. With sales of eight million copies in the United States (and 18 million worldwide), Come Away With Me was one of the most successful debuts in history.

But with her second CD, Feels Like Home, Jones responded to the monumental expectations by delivering a record that matches the quality of the first CD and has gone on to become another huge seller (four million and counting).

Even Jones feels she did a good job keeping her notoriety and the monumental expectations for the second CD from affecting the Feels Like Home project.

Jones noted that once she and her core band (Alexander on bass, guitarists Adam Levy and Kevin Breit, drummer Andrew Borger, and backing singer Daru Oda) were in the studio, they were able to completely focus on the music, while outside distractions melted away.

"When we get in the studio it’s nice," Jones said. "The great thing about being in the studio is you can do whatever the hell you want. Nobody has to hear anything.

"I didn’t feel pressured at all," she said. "I think going in the studio is really fun and it’s a fun opportunity to try stuff out."

Jones and her band sound relaxed and confident on Feels Like Home. The music itself is appealing and judiciously arranged and produced to keep the focus on Jones’ vocals. Stylistically, Feels Like Home re-establishes the strengths Jones displayed on Come Away With Me, while offering some subtle—and welcome—contrasts with the debut.

"There are a lot of little things that I notice that I think are different, but might not be a major thing (to listeners)," Jones said. "I think my singing is really different. I sound really young on the first one, not in a bad way necessarily, but it’s weird the way I pronounce certain words. It’s kind of funny, I used to sing all jazz standards and I came at singing from a very jazz-singer sort of place. I feel like you can still hear that a little bit in the first album. And I feel like on the second album, we listened to a ton of country music that year, so there’s a lot more country influence in there and a little less of that jazz singer (style)."

That influence is most obvious on the CD’s friskiest song, "Creepin’ In," a quick-shuffling tune that features guest vocals from country legend Dolly Parton.

But the country influence is also present on several other songs on Feels Like Home, including "Those Sweet Words," "Toes" and "Sunrise."

Such songs help give the CD more variety than Come Away With Me. That first album was almost entirely filled with intimate sounding ballads that showcased Jones’ marvelously unaffected voice. Jones herself has questioned whether Come Away With Me was too mellow.

The handful of tunes that pick up the tempo on Feels Like Home not only gives the CD more diversity, they have helped Jones’ current live show.

"It’s been a lot more fun and it’s been a lot more varied," Jones said of her current live show. "I think it’s more fun for the audience. It’s definitely more fun for us. I love ballads and I love doing that stuff, but when you’re playing live, I mean, playing a bunch of ballads, that gets tiresome. So it’s been fun. It also goes over a lot better in the big places."

Jones said she also feels she is coming more into her own as a performer, which is improving the experience for the audience —and herself.

"It’s really great because I feel definitely more comfortable," Jones said. "Just all the practice has made it better and fun. I’m so happy because I’m finally at a place where I can really just enjoy the show and have fun even if something gets thrown at us.

"And the band sounds the best it’s ever sounded," she said. "We’ve been playing together for three years. We’ve had some changes here and there. That’s been hard. But we’ve really locked in."

The live side of Jones’ career has been a major topic of conversation recently. Her current tour has become something of the poster child for a summer concert season that has been labeled the worst in perhaps two decades, as many tours have been greeted with weak ticket sales.

The big casualty, of course, was Lollapalooza, which was called off entirely because of poor advance sales. Other tours that struggled included the Kiss/Poison double bill, the American Idols tour, Incubus’ arena tour, and Jessica Simpson’s outdoor amphitheatre tour.

But Jones’ tour, which began in August, has also been widely cited for having had to move into smaller venues in a number of markets, including Chicago, Portland, and Kansas City. Jones, though, doesn’t think her tour should be a center of attention.

"Everybody’s had trouble, the whole industry, so I don’t really think it’s fair to pinpoint certain people," Jones said.

"I don’t really think it’s like ‘Norah Jones is not having people come to her shows.’ We’re in a war right now. There’s an election that’s very, very incredibly strange. The main places that we had to downsize were very military towns, actually. I think that has a lot to do with the places where we’ve downsized—[And] hey, we didn’t have to cancel anything." n

Norah Jones plays Rupp Arena Nov. 6