Sunday, April 21, 2013

Diana Krall Glad Rag Doll 2012

I saw the cover and wondered why Diana Krall needed sex to sell her new one. I figured I'd dislike it since T-Bone Burnett produced, and his recent work has been disappointing. The idea of Diana Krall doing old-timey Americana music (which I learned from several reviews) didn't appeal to me. So I came to this record with significant negative bias.

As it turns out, I like the record more than I thought I would, and less than any other Diana Krall record. And I dislike it for none of the reasons I thought I would, but I still dislike much of it.

Krall loved the music of her father's music collection from the twenties and thirties, and the cover photo outfit is a tribute to the Zigfield girls of the twenties. And T-Bone Burnett does a respectable job, at least within the context of the time period inspiration. The band is excellent, with Marc Ribot on guitar, Jay Bellerose on drums, and Dennis Crouch on bass all standouts, and several others adding depth and color to the proceedings. Krall tackles an upright piano and almost gets it to boogie. The period music is performed today, by a modern band, and there is little attempt made to play the songs in an authentic 1920's style, and that's good.

So the problem isn't T-Bone, and it isn't the band. Krall sounds a little out of place sometimes, but mostly she handles her role with her usual charm and talent. The problem is the songs themselves.  They aren't that interesting, aren't that unusual. Too many of them can rightly be called "ditties". On a record filled with songs from 90 years ago, it's telling that the best song is newer, Julie Miller's Wide River To Cross, a beautiful gospel-country number that Krall just kills.

Other highlights include We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye, a swinging cabaret-styled tune that gets a nice piano part from Krall, and There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth The Salt Of My Tears, with fine piano and guitar. I'm A Little Mixed Up is a walking blues that again features Krall's piano and Ribot's guitar to good effect. Here Lies Love sounds a little like a New Orleans march, and Krall finally gets a little jazzy on the piano. There's a slow, swampy version of Doc Pompus' Lonely Avenue that sees Ribot cut loose with a Frisell-styled guitar break, and again, some jazz piano.

That's six of thirteen. The rest of the songs are fatally flawed in one way or another, but mostly it is the inferior song quality. Krall's talent is mismatched to the material, and while the band is talented, they too seem uncertain of what to do to make these songs interesting. Krall's vocals are good throughout. But her wispy, sultry style doesn't always work with the material, and her lovely jazz phrasing is wasted on these overly simple pop songs.

If she'd tried to branch out by going too far into a more challenging jazz style than her usual territory, she probably would have taken more heat for her efforts, but maybe we'd have a better record to listen to than this. These may be Krall's favorite memories from childhood, but they do not add up to a great new record.

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