Sunday, November 08, 2015

Diana Krall - Wallflower (2015)

Diana Krall moves closer and closer to being a pop act instead of a jazz musician with each successive album. In the process you may think that she would lose much of her old fan base, especially when you consider that many of the cover songs she is doing these days were not the hippest things on the block when most of them charted back in the 70s. However, after hearing Krall's latest album, Wallflower, I'm convinced that her audience will remain.

Krall has always been a fine interpreter of other people's work and she takes these soft rock hits and completely reinvents them. On Wallflower she serves mostly as a soft-spoken vocalist. She only plays piano on three of the twelve tracks, and she is accompanied throughout by an "A" list of heavyweights including Michael Bublé who duets with the star on Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone again (Naturally)."

Jazz bassist Christian McBride gives "California Dreamin'" a solid foundation and the backing vocals by Stephen Stills and Graham Nash add some color to the great Mamas and Papas classic. The song was perfect the first time around so it really doesn't need to be remade but Krall's very quiet rendition is still welcome as she turns it into a very different song. I can't identify the percussion sounds, they're certainly not drums, but whatever it is that Krall and producer David Foster are employing makes this update unique. She slows it down considerably and by comparison the famous vocal quartet's original sounds like hard rock.

Krall's takes on "Desperado" and "I Can't Tell You Why," both Eagles classics, suit her well. She also loves "Superstar," "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," "Don't Dream It's Over," and "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)" all songs she reinterprets in new, very striking ways.

The album isn't all remakes of former chartbusters. Paul McCartney's "If I Take You Home Tonight," an unused, leftover ballad from his album of standards, Kisses On The Bottom, is a fine choice and tailor made for Krall. It's another dreamy love song in the McCartney tradition.

The title track was written by Bob Dylan in 1971. It was never released until 1991 on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 and unusually for the folk-rock giant it's a straightforward love song. Krall's lounge version offers up more emotion than Dylan's over-the-top honky-tonk arrangement.

The last of the three songs on the disc that are unfamiliar to most listeners is the one that least gets into your soul and it's the star's duet with Bryan Adams on Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home." It's not out of place but it just doesn't stay with you as much as the other selections do.

Of the moldie oldies the one big surprise is 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." Listening to this cover after hearing the original for decades it never occurred to me that the song could be presented properly in a coffee house setting but Krall's and Foster's sparse opening made me truly listen to the lyrics for the very first time. The 1975 single is really a triumph of studio production and technical wizardry and those things make it a great record but here the singer and producer prove it's also a good song.

These songs hold up well when translated into completely different genres. That's not only a tribute to Krall it's a testament to the great songwriting behind all of them.

Here is "California Dreamin'" live with a real drummer in a jazzier arrangement than the one on the album.

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