LOS ANGELES (Billboard) – When you have snared a trophy case full of Grammy Awards in one sitting, including ones for album of the year and best new artist, it is a little hard to fly under the radar.
But that is exactly what Norah Jones and her friends are trying to do with the self-titled debut from the Little Willies, out March 7 on Milking Bull Records/EMI.
The album is a loose-limbed collection of country classics by artists such as Townes Van Zandt and Kris Kristofferson, with four originals sprinkled in.
For a brief while, the Little Willies were able to keep the crowds at bay during their semi-regular gigs at New York’s Living Room, a small club on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
But as word spread of the band’s lineup — Jones, Lee Alexander, Richard Julian, Jim Campilongo and Dan Reiser — the lines out the door got longer and longer.
Although the band is named for its devotion to Willie Nelson, its members certainly were not beyond having a little good-natured fun with the name.
“After a while, people recognized the Little Willies name and the shows were getting too crowded, so they changed to the Well Hungarians,” says Zach Hochkeppel, VP of marketing for EMI Jazz and Classics.
LABOR OF LOVE
After a few years of gigs, the band members decided to record the songs they had worked up, although from the start they were worried that their effort might be seen as a commercial endeavor instead of the tiny labor of love it was intended to be.
Or worse, people would think they were trying to elbow in on the traditionalist movement. “Our love for this music is authentic, but we’re not people preserving the tradition. We don’t want to take away from that,” Julian says.
In fact, at first the group thought about an Internet-only release, “but Norah and I are signed artists (to EMI), and we didn’t think it was fair to do something like that to EMI,” Julian says.
He says the band and label have seen eye to eye on the low-key approach to promotion (“I don’t think anyone at EMI is focusing on this for the bottom line,” he says), and adds, “I heard one rumor that one of the heads of EMI was happy that Norah did this record because he was happy that she got her country kick out (now) so it wouldn’t be on her next record.”
Hochkeppel says EMI immediately understood the quintet’s concerns.
“We want to try to get it out to as many folks as possible, but we don’t want people to think it’s the next Norah Jones record. There might be people who bought her past two albums who don’t dig this, who think she’s a country artist now. As much as we think we could have a lot of fun with this and sell a lot of records, we don’t want to sell Norah short in her long-term career.”