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

Norah Jones & Billie Joe Armstrong
Foreverly (Reprise)
Reviewed by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express
11/27/2013

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In its early days, Green Day sat somewhere between Screeching Weasel and Operation Ivy musically, but in hindsight Oakland-born Billie Joe Armstrong’s singing and songwriting was unmistakably emo — he wore his teenage heartache and boredom right where Joe Strummer might’ve worn a “Sandinista!” patch. Thus, while Foreverly, Armstrong’s new Everly Brothers-inspired album of down-home duets with Norah Jones, may seem surprising, what the Everlys famously conveyed on saccharine tracks like “Oh So Many Years” (“Each night within my lonely room/I cry over you”) isn’t far from Green Day’s “At the Library” (“What is it about you that I adore/staring across the room”).

Foreverly pays tribute to the Everlys’ 1958 classic Songs Our Daddy Taught Us and opens with a version of “Roving Gambler” as cute as the Everlys’, making listeners wonder whether the subject in question gambled with root-beer bottle caps and roved around Candyland. The initial recording of Foreverly took just five days, and a few months later Armstrong and Jones reunited for re-takes; the result is an intimate, passionate collection of quaint, dusty ballads that can sound cheesy at first but rein in listeners as each slow, careful old-time story unfolds. Despite the Everlys concept, Jones and Armstrong — with a stellar, tasteful backing band — have put together a diverse platter of interesting material: Songs like “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?” reach an almost “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” corniness; the murder ballad “Down in the Willow Garden” is even more menacing than Jones’ 2012 startler “Miriam,” which was arguably as punk as anything Green Day has released. And the relatively upbeat “Longtime Gone,” with its Mazzy Star feel, features both singers claiming you’re gonna be blue/and all alone, as if both a man and a woman are breaking up with you.

Foreverly’s apex is the timeless misery of “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail,” which Jones conveys alone. Just when her profound voice and impressive emotion seem like they could melt the bars of a cell, both voices join together again, revealing how well Jones and Armstrong’s voices fit together: A punk voice that’s not-so-secretly pop, and a pop voice that’s always transcended classification. 

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