Setting the Mood

Sultry vocalist/pianist Norah Jones and somber singer/songwriter Gillian Welch open the Tampa Bay leg of the Verizon Music Festival with a free concert in Coachman Park.

Gates open at 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 11, and lawn seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

The enchanting Norah Jones sings hushed ballads and torch songs over light jazz percussion, soulful guitar and piano as soothing as the patter of rain. And in her warm voice there's evidence of her early influences — Billie Holiday and Bill Evans — whom she discovered in childhood and found both intriguing and comforting.

Jones, who happens to be the daughter of renowned sitarist Ravi Shankar, grew up in Texas, where she won several vocal competitions in high school. She didn't succumb to the lure of the stage, however, until the summer after her second year at the University of North Texas. Having accepted a Greenwich Village sublet from a friend, she became bewitched by the folk coffeehouses and jazz clubs of New York City, and began performing with a funk-fusion band. On the strength of that group's demo, she signed with Blue Note in 2001 and began working on material for her debut.

The resulting album, Come Away With Me (2002), won a whopping eight Grammy Awards — including Album of the Year and Song of the Year (for "Don't Know Why," by Jesse Harris).

The album's commercial success is a testament both to her talent and taste. Her music borrows from classic song modes and seduces younger listeners, but doesn't drift over into adult contemporary schlock. In other words, yeah you can get it on to this CD, but you don't picture scented candles when you hear her sing, so much as you imagine two earnest lovers in a lonely Brooklyn flat.

By contrast, Gillian Welch is a wistful reveler known for resurrecting the hill country music of 20th century Appalachia in fresh, autumnal ballads. Out this month is Soul Journey (Acony), hopefully a further evolution from her stark, Grammy-nominated debut, Revival (1996), and more of the rosy, preciously pretty acoustic rock found on Time (2001).

The pairing of Jones and Welch should make for a fantastic show.

The concert is rain or shine, no bottles or coolers allowed. For those desperate to sit as close as possible, reserved seats are also available for $37.50 and $45. Tickets are available in person at Ruth Eckerd Hall Box Office or by calling 800-875-8642.

The festival runs through June 14, with headliners such as Bo Diddley and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performing at popular venues that include Mahaffey Theater and Skipper's Smokehouse. Weekly Planet music critic Scott Harrell will cover the Verizon Music Festival in depth in next week's issue.

Coachman Park is located at 301 Drew St., Clearwater.


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