Diana Krall disappoints, but Bob Dylan delights
Verve Music Group
While there often comes a time in a pop star’s flagging career when they release an album of jazz covers for a quick commercial pick-me-up, it’s not so common for renowned jazz singers to take on pop songs from the 1960s and ’70s. On Wallflower, celebrated jazz songstress Diana Krall does just that.
With the orchestration and piano playing handled by big-time producer and fellow Canadian David Foster (Whitney Houston, Celine Dion), Krall is free to focus on her sumptuous and sultry vocals. So we get covers of Elton John’s Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word (the album highlight), 10cc’s I’m Not in Love and The Eagles’ Desperado.
The stripped-down version (that is, painfully dull cover) of The Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreaming starts off so pretentiously lethargic, only the ridiculously tinny beat from a cheap Casio keyboard will snap you out of the paralytic fug.
There’s no denying Krall has a truly beautiful, soulful alto, but it’s not enough to enliven any of these pallid renditions. She also sings duets with two other Canadians, Michael Buble on Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again (Naturally) and Bryan Adams on Randy Newman’s Feels Like Home. Basically, she turned pop into plop.
Shadows in the Night
When it comes to vocal theatrics, you couldn't get two voices any more different than the croaky croon of Bob Dylan and the honeyed baritone of the king of cool, Frank Sinatra.
He may have been the Voice of a Generation, but compared to Ol' Blue Eyes, Dylan is an awful singer, which makes Shadows in the Night, his 36th studio album, so wonderfully surprising.
Taking on the so-called Great American Songbook, with 10 ballads made famous by Sinatra, Dylan could easily have made a pig's ear of this and yet the 73-year-old brings a stripped-back smoky smoothness to these delicate jazz renditions.
From the warm plod of I'm a Fool to Want You to the world-weary regret of That Lucky Old Sun, the songs are pared back and bereft of their typical showbiz razzmatazz, Dylan treating each song with an obvious love and respect.
They are certainly admirable cover versions, but if you're looking for Dylan the subversive folk troubadour you may want to dust off your copy of Blonde on Blonde rather than visit the shadows in the night.
Formed from the shrapnel of noise-pop band Women following 26-year-old guitarist Christopher Reimer's death from heart problems in 2012, Canadian post-punks Viet Cong have produced a self-titled debut album of dark intensity.
At only seven songs and 35 minutes long, it carries a surprisingly heavy weight and while still direct and easily accessible, it's not an album to lightly dip your toes in.
While Reimer's passing isn't directly alluded to, the brooding rage and rawness of the music, often sounding like the sounds of war, can't help but have been influenced by some kind of painful haunting.
Stacked with punchy angular guitars and melodic hooks, bassist/singer Matt Flegel's creeping stoic voice tackles some lyrical bleakness over thunderous tribal grooves. From the sprawling synth-driven centrepiece March of Progress to the howling fury of the monumental 11-minute psych-prog closer Death, Viet Cong wear their obvious goth and post-punk influences proudly on their sleeves: The Wire, Bauhaus and the early Strokes. Thankfully, the visceral whirlwind doesn't let up for one glorious minute.