Diana Krall, with that breathy contra alto voice, stunning good looks and no small talent on the piano, is one of the most commercially and critically successful jazz artist of the past 20 years. She played professionally as a jazz artist in local restaurants around Nanaimo, British Columbia at age 15. She went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston on a scholarship before heading out to L.A. to play jazz.
In 1993, Krall released her first album, Stepping Out. Her third album, All for You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio (1996), was nominated for a Grammy and continued for 70 weeks in the Billboard jazz charts. Since 2000 she has regularly seen her music cross over to the pop charts. Her music most often consists of jazz standards, covers of newer jazz artists such as Michael Franks, as well as contemporary artists such as Joni Mitchell and Billy Joel.
With her trio, including the masterful bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Russell Malone, her stock in trade became righteous and virtuosic jazz with a clean, traditional arrangement (Johnny Mandell, Claus Ogerman to mention a couple). In 2004, after marrying Elvis Costello, she started penning her own songs. The Girl In The Other Room released in April 2004, quickly rose to the top five in the United Kingdom and made the Australian top 40 album charts and deftly signal a shift into more contemporary material. Still, the sound remained the same, smoky, sensual jazz vamp that was welcomed world-wide. A more Jazz/Pop image than your usual jazz persona.
Glad Rag Doll will come as a surprise to her legion of fans. The Steinway Grand Pianos, the intricate clean jazz guitar and bass get shoved to the hallway for this album. It’s a rent party in a cold water flat, it’s ‘20s flappers and prohibition stride piano. It sounds like it was cut live on a honky-tonk piano, a washtub bass, and D'jango Rheinhart or Charlie Christian – and in places some Nashville Cat – on guitar. A two track recorder in the hall way on Tin Pan Alley, Stew bums sleeping under news-scrap with cigarette butts for pillows at her feet.
First time through it felt like Eartha Kitt meets Tom Waits. And I love it!
The album is filled with tracks that’ll never be called “smooth jazz”. “I’m A Little Mixed Up” is a rock a billy flavored song presented with a distorted electric guitar and barroom piano as a string bass thumps out the rhythm. “Just A Butterfly” sounds like French Chanson” with a gut string guitar playing a southern lullaby that comes off like a tune played in a speak easy. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man…” is a jazz jump tune with a D'jango Rheinhart-found-a-distortion-pedal vibe that just rocks.
The title track, played scant and with all that ‘musical’ room gives a wonderful display of how well the recording technique works for Krall. The tune sounds like something that should be played in the bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed. The guitar, which is the only instrument here, is beautiful in that way my grandparents probably heard it. Krall’s voice begs you to get intimate. It’s a sad song for all those dolls in glad rags, heading inevitably for sad rags. Just a wonderfully deeply felt rendition of a tune to transport you back.
As low-fi as the album feels, Krall manages to make it a diverse montage of 20th Century Music, as she says, “walking it forward”. From the ‘dirty jazz’ of the ‘20s, the hopeful, but not cynical tunes of the ‘30s to the pre-bop of jazz. In amongst the rent party, it becomes apparent that Krall may be playing an old upright; may be banging a barroom piano, but like many of the people that lived the Great Depression, she is more than just that. Her piano skills transcend the local taproom, and should be in Carnegie Hall, but the alley will do for now kind of feeling.
In that way she conveys the desperation, the sad and the tragic and adds a positive spin to it. A look to better days ahead. Her talent is necessary for this ‘emotion’ and her character is necessary to take these nearly 100 year old tunes, and making them topical.
So, there ya go. Just when you think Diana Krall is riding out a career built on a little bit of talent and a whole lot of Jean Harlow looks, she pulls off the covers and gives the world a taste of some great remembrances of another time of hardship. Put’s a light on the similarities, all in the guise of yet another sexy album cover.
It’s way more than that, and in many ways serves as a subversive call to a memorial to the music, the times it was made in, and hope that could be derived from it. Fantastic stuff….and Elvis Costello is still the luckiest man alive.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved