Billie Joe + Norah


Someone I used to swap burned CDs with once accused me of liking “pretty music.” I can’t remember exactly how he said it, and, more vexingly, I can’t remember if it was in reference to an album/artist he thought I wouldn’t like or an album/artist I liked that he didn’t. Not being able to recall that last bit kills me, because it makes all the difference. In his estimation, either his musical palate was limited or mine was.

In truth, it’s a moot point. I know my palate skews toward the consonant. I love vocal harmonies, I’m in awe of singers with perfect intonation, I listen to “Clair de lune” all the time, and I have a hard time with genres that… how shall I put this… place undue value on dynamic extremes. In my defense, I’m pretty sure it’s biological, not learned. My mom likes to tell this crazy story about taking me to see fireworks when I was little and panic-running in the opposite direction of the explosions with me in her arms because I was freaking out so violently that she thought I was having a seizure. I still cover my ears when siren-blaring firetrucks drive by. It’s not the most “adult” thing to do, I know.

Some have expressed surprise at Billie Joe Armstrong’s participation in the Foreverly project — “A punk rocker covering Every Brothers tunes?!? No wai!” — but we shouldn’t be too shocked. There’s plenty of evidence that Green Day’s lead singer likes pretty music too.

His band has always emphasized melody — all three members can sing, and the vocal harmony on the chorus of “Basket Case” still strikes me as the very image of gorgeous simplicity. Still, I must confess to experiencing a She’s All That-style, taking-off-the-glasses-and-dispensing-with-the-pony-tail moment when sampling Foreverly for the first time. I’d never heard Armstrong’s voice so clearly or focused on it so intently.

Blame that on my tendency to be distracted by loud, distorted noises, or on the folks who mix and master Green Day’s albums. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s all water under the bridge, because I’m so happy that this opportunity to zoom in on his vocal chords arose. They’re fascinating. There’s a smallness to the way Armstrong sings that I’d characterize as anything but negative. Not only does it give his voice a singular shape, it makes him a perfect candidate for a project like this, where coexistence is the raison d’etre. I love how his voice blends with Norah Jones’, and I’d venture to guess that, regardless of your biological makeup, these harmonies are just plain good for you. Like, physically — their sweetness has to be rearranging your brain is some better, more orderly way. I can almost feel it.

See what you think by sampling a pair of tracks below, and keep a lookout for the album’s official release, on November 25.

Billie Joe + Norah — “Long Time Gone” [iTunes]

Billie Joe + Norah — “Roving Gambler” [iTunes]

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