Blue Notes: Glad Rag Doll by Diana Krall

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 11:02am

The music on Glad Rag Doll, Diana Krall's latest album, is a considerable departure not just from her last studio project, 2009's bossa nova-influenced Quiet Nights, but from anything she has attempted before.

Comprising mostly tunes from the 1920s and '30s it is arguably her first rock'n'roll album. "This record is all about innovation. That's the paradox," its producer T. Bone Burnett says.

Nothing in Burnett's rock and American roots music resumé suggests him as a logical choice to produce a Krall record, but a personal connection does. Burnett has had an on-off working association with Krall's husband, Elvis Costello, since 1985 when they recorded the single The People's Limousine as The Coward Brothers.

Costello is not credited on this album, but contributions on ukulele, mandola, tenor guitar and background vocals are credited to Howard Coward. This is the first Krall album on which Costello's musical influence on his wife is apparent. He wrote lyrics for 2004's Girl in the Other Room.

Almost Blue, an older song of his which she also recorded for that album, is a shot at writing the kind of standard Krall has been playing since the start of her career.

This time, however, as well as engaging Burnett to produce, she has made extensive use of guitars, banjo and the French horn of Marc Ribot, whose edgy playing has featured on albums by Costello, Tom Waits, and other artists.

For the songs, Krall has gone back to some of the first music she was aware of, played by her grandparents on the piano. She recalls visiting her grandmother and playing those tunes herself from the period sheet music as a teenager.

She thinks of the songs as the soundtrack to her "own Carole Lombard movie", and describes the music in period visual terms. The images it evoked for her, she says, comprised rock'n'roll attitude from different eras, ranging from the Ziegfeld Follies and Josephine Baker to Deborah Harry, something she tried to capture in both the music and the cover art.

Krall identifies a wildness in the music of the 1920s and '30s as the "rock'n'roll of that era", a view Burnett endorses, pointing out that she plays "great rock piano".

He adds the records he had in mind in helping to sculpt the music included Miles Davis' 1970s soundtrack to a movie set in the period just before the jazz age, Jack Johnson. "We all just went in there as if the songs were written yesterday. I didn't want to make a period piece or nostalgia record," says Krall.

The sonic palette includes both period instrumentation - she forsakes her grand piano for an 1890s Steinway upright - and the modern growl of Ribot's distorted electric guitar. The album also introduces a new rhythm section in drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch.

Standout performances include an exuberant version of Fred Fisher's There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt of My Tears, Milton Ager, Jack Yellen and Dan Dougherty's title track performed by Ribot and Krall as a guitar/vocal duet, and two songs of a later vintage - Ray Charles' 1956 hit Lonely Avenue, written by Doc Pomus, and one from this century, Julie and Buddy Miller's Wide River to Cross.

In an era when the album is challenged by MP3 downloads of individual tracks, it is a distinct advantage to have a producer who knows how to pace one, and the performances here range from the raucous and raunchy to the quiet and tender.

The album proper runs for 13 songs plus four bonus tracks, which, for fans of Krall who aren't quite sure about the retro-with-a-modern-slant arrangements, should provide comfortingly familiar territory.

She accompanies herself at the piano for alternate takes of Glad Rag Doll and There Ain't No Sweet Man, and two songs not included in the main body of the record, As Long as I Love and Garden in the Rain.

Krall calls Glad Rag Doll "a song and dance record"; it's pretty good.

Take Three Three albums featuring Diana Krall reinterpreting vintage songs.

(Impulse!, 1996): Krall pays tribute to one of her greatest inspirations, Nat King Cole and his trio, performing Cole originals and standards.

  • All for You

(Verve, 1999): this album was nominated for three Grammys at the 42nd Awards, and won two. Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, George Gershwin and Jerome Kern are among the composers who get the Krall treatment.

  • When I Look in Your Eyes
  • Kisses on the Bottom
  • (Hear Music, 2012): recorded last year in Los Angeles, Paul McCartney's album features Krall playing piano and providing the rhythm arrangement on all but one track. It comprises songs from the 1920s through to the 1940s. The McCartney sessions clearly went well, and perhaps provided some impetus for Glad Rag Doll.