Norah Jones’ Puss n Boots — playing the 9:30 Club on Thursday — raises the bar on bar bands


From left, Sasha Dobson, Norah Jones and Catherine Popper demonstrate one way to get the bartender’s attention. (Richard Ballard)

With a loose, country-rock sound and a stable of familiar covers, Puss n Boots sounds like the bar band you’d find in a Texas honky-tonk on a Tuesday night — until you hear that sultry, refined voice. It’s Norah Jones’, and it’s unmistakable, no matter the accompaniment.

But Jones isn’t the only star of this show. She shares the spotlight with jazz singer and longtime friend Sasha Dobson and bassist Catherine Popper, who has played with Ryan Adams, Grace Potter and Jack White.

Though they’ve been a band on and off since the late 2000s, Puss n Boots just got around to releasing a debut album, “No Fools, No Fun,” this week, and hits 9:30 Club on Thursday on its first proper tour. The album is a mix of covers and originals, recorded live and in the studio. Dobson and Popper contribute two originals each, Jones wrote one (“Don’t Know What it Means”) and the remaining seven songs are covers. We asked Dobson — who sings, plays guitar and drums when a song calls for it — about three of the trio’s standout covers.

‘Bull Rider’ by Rodney Crowell (made famous by Johnny Cash)
The album’s title comes from a lyric in this classic country tune that the band has been performing since its nascent days, when Dobson and Jones were learning guitar together in Brooklyn. “That was one of the first songs where I was like, ‘Hey Norah, you know how to play this?’ ” Dobson says. The recording on the album is live, a nod to the song’s status as a fan favorite. “It’s one of the staples of our band,” she says. “Everyone — our little, local Brooklyn fan base — wants to hear that song. That’s part of how we chose songs: what went over well.”

‘Jesus, Etc.’ by Wilco
Jones has been covering this song from Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” for years now. In 2008, when Dobson and Popper joined Jones for Neil Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concert, they played “Jesus, Etc.” — as did another band on the bill: Wilco. That eventually led to the trio performing the song with Wilco at Madison Square Garden. “We all made friends on that gig and [when Wilco] were playing in New York, they asked us to sing background on it.” Puss n Boots strips the song down to its core elements, much like the solo acoustic version Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy performed at the Lincoln Theatre last month.

‘Down by the River’ by Neil Young and Crazy Horse
You can tell from the recording that Young’s epic murder ballad is a blast to play live. “It’s so much fun, especially for us jazz nerds,” Dobson says. “None of us are actively doing jazz right now, and it’s just so fun to be in that position finally.” “Down by the River” is Puss n Boots’ chance to rock hard and Jones’ opportunity to show off her formidable guitar skills. “I can feel Norah opening up,” Dobson says. “She never gets to do s— like this.”

9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Thu., 7 p.m., $25; 202-265-0930. (U Street)

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Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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Adam Griffiths · July 17, 2014