Diana Krall's Wallflower and Bob Dylan's soulful Sinatra - two very different cover albums
Diana Krall has managed to balance the elements of jazz and pop in her music for years now, appealing to a broad audience as a singer while retaining enough credibility as a pianist to carry on getting booked for serious jazz festivals.
There isn't much jazz to be heard on her latest album, Wallflower (Verve), which is produced by Verve chairman and multiple Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster, a fellow Canadian and pianist known for his work with artists such as Barbra Streisand, Chicago, Whitney Houston and Michael Bublé.
The album takes its title from a 1971 Bob Dylan song, and most of the others were hits between the early 1960s and the mid-1980s. Few are a particularly obvious fit for Krall, but they are tunes she loved in her teens and twenties. She is now 50.
The exception is If I Take You Home Tonight, a Paul McCartney song originally intended for his 2012 Kisses on the Bottom album, on which Krall played piano. It didn't make the CD, and Krall asked if she could record it instead. McCartney said yes.
The other 11 tracks on the standard version of the CD are covers of tunes by The Eagles, Elton John, Jim Croce, Gilbert O' Sullivan, Crowded House and 10cc, among others. A "deluxe edition" includes four extra tracks: a duet with Georgie Fame on his old hit Yeh Yeh, The Beatles' In My Life, and live versions of Wallflower and Elton John's Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.
Fame, incidentally, will be appearing at Grappa's Cellar on February 27 and 28.
It's rather cosily Canadian. Bublé guests on Alone Again Naturally and Bryan Adams rasps along with Krall on Randy Newman's Feels Like Home. According to Krall, she had wanted to work with her label boss - who she has known for 25 years - producing for some time.
"I was ready to work with David and let him do what he does best. He did all of the arrangements and played a lot of the piano. I always knew David was good, but I gained an even greater appreciation for his talents as a producer and as a musician," she says.
According to Foster, who is not and does not see himself as a jazz musician, it was Krall's decision to spend most of her time in the vocal booth, and he had to persuade her to play a few piano solos as well.
"On songs like California Dreamin' and I Can't Tell You Why, Diana plays beautiful, simple, solid, picturesque piano solos filled with melody. They are almost sing-able. Her solos have a real arc. Like a lot of the great jazz musicians, she sees the end of the solo before she starts. That's what separates the good from the great," says Foster.
Krall says she has loved the title track since hearing Dylan's original rough and ready demo with a dog barking in the background.
"I love Bob Dylan like crazy," she says. "I've only met him a few times. I told him I love the way he plays piano. He said, 'Well, you're a piano player, so you should know.' Dylan's music runs so deep."
Dylan also has a new album out, and like Wallflower it is a collection of cover tunes, but the resemblance ends there. Shadows in The Night (Columbia) is a collection of songs recorded by Frank Sinatra, and it's not nearly as bad an idea as you might suppose.
Most pop or rock artists when they decide, wisely or unwisely, to have a crack at the Great American Songbook opt for accompaniments of the kind that Nelson Riddle orchestrated for Sinatra - essentially the approach Foster took in arranging the songs on Wallflower.
Dylan, however, is nothing if not perverse, and has done the opposite. The bare-bones arrangements here are performed, live in the studio, by Dylan and his road band. His vocals, eerily set off by some fine pedal steel guitar playing from Donny Herron, are well to the fore.
In his prime, Dylan's craft as a vocalist was very different to Sinatra's, but they shared the ability to fully inhabit a lyric.
Dylan's range, always limited, has diminished with age. He is now 73. His sense of pitch was never exact, but it is a good deal more reliable in a studio environment, and he sings some of the finest songs from Sinatra's repertoire with world-weary profundity. There are more technically accomplished versions of all these songs on record, but probably none more soulful - and that includes the opener I'm a Fool to Want You. Other songs include The Night We Called It a Day, That Lucky Old Sun and Autumn Leaves.
Three other noteworthy albums inspired by Frank Sinatra.
- A Jazz Tribute to Frank Sinatra (1959, Verve): The Oscar Peterson Trio, at that time comprising Peterson on piano, Ed Thigpen on drums and Ray Brown on bass, put their spin on some of Sinatra's biggest early hits.
- Dear Mr Sinatra (2006, Telarc): a fine swinging set from singer and guitarist John Pizzarelli with the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
- Perfectly Frank (1992, Columbia): Tony Bennett pays his tribute in intimate style with just a piano trio for accompaniment.