Diana Krall album has a pop sound - but don't accuse her of leaving jazz behind

Singer revisits songs from her teenage years on an album that marks a departure from the jazz standards that made her name

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 6:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 6:15am

For their summer holiday a couple of years ago, Canadian singer Diana Krall and her husband, English rock musician Elvis Costello, stayed with their twin sons at their secluded cabin on Vancouver Island.

They'd taken with them The Beatles in Mono box set and every evening, after the children had gone to bed, they'd light candles, eat a home-cooked dinner and listen to a different Beatles record.

"We'd talk about it … what was happening here and happening there," she recalls.

Those conversations and explorations are one of several inspirations for Krall to depart, temporarily, from her more usual jazz repertoire.

For her latest album, Wallflower, which was released earlier this month, she teamed up with 16-time Grammy Award-winning musician and producer David Foster (who has worked with Celine Dion, Michael Bublé and Westlife, and is one of the judges on Asia's Got Talent starting next month) to create an album of pop songs, mostly remembered from her teenage years.

"Those were days when you waited to be able to afford a record, or waited until it came on the radio," she says, remembering hanging out with friends at Ski Hill on Vancouver Island, on the west coast of Canada, with Peter Frampton posters on her bedroom wall, listening to as much music as she could get hold of. Those albums included Jim Croce's 1972 Operator, about trying to locate a former lover who has moved to LA with the singer's best friend; the Carpenters' song Superstar, about a lonely groupie in love with a pop singer; and the Eagles ballad Desperado, about a cowboy who is going down the wrong track in his life.

"I think I have a big history of singing sad songs … it seems to be something that makes me happy," says Krall jokingly during an interview together with Foster.

Despite the fact her music is so serene (Polish radio listeners voted hers the most calming voice in the world), she says she is full of angst and has always identified with Woody Allen characters.

"I think your personal anxiety is kept for your personal self and none of it comes out in your music," Foster says.

"Well sure it does," Krall answers. "But it doesn't come out in anxiety. It comes out as intense, hard swing, or tortured, you know."

There was a kind of tomboy innocence about her stage performance in Paris the night before the interview: a reluctance to play the game of talking about her inspirations for each interpretation, as if all she really wanted to do was play music. Several times on stage, she told the crowd she was shy.

Foster and Krall had not worked together before, but they ended up as great friends.

The night before they played their first live show together - a showcase concert at the Yoyo club in Paris - they met for dinner.

"We laughed and laughed. We're from the same island, a generation apart, but we're fans of each other."

They worked so well together that, in a break from her usual practice of singing and playing, Krall asked him to play piano on the album (except for one song).

"I said: 'Diana, this is stupid, you're one of the greatest piano players in the world. People are going to hate me for playing piano on your record; it doesn't seem right,' and she said, 'I want to be just the singer'," says Foster.

In the pack of sad songs, however, there is one upbeat number: the Latin soul tune Yeh Yeh, which she sings with the 72-year-old English rhythm and blues star Georgie Fame, who made the song famous as a number one hit in Britain in 1964.

"That was Elvis' idea," says Foster. "He knew we were doing Yeh Yeh and he said, 'I just saw Georgie Fame perform at Ronnie Scott's in London and he was amazing … why don't you get him to duet on the song?'"

Fame was in Sweden, where he lives, but they managed to record him on Skype and boost the sound quality, thanks to some studio magic.

Most of the songs on Wallflower are covers, but there is a new one by Paul McCartney, with whom Krall collaborated on his 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom. He wrote several original songs for it, but it became too long and they didn't all make the final cut.

The album's title track is a little-known song she found on a Bob Dylan bootleg series called Another Self Portrait.

I have the right to do what I want, actually. Don't you have the desire just to play and have fun just because you can?

"I listened to it in the back of my car in British Columbia driving home from a place called Qualicum Beach in the summer, and the demo is of him playing the piano and outside there's a dog barking and it just made me feel really happy," says Krall. "I had it cranked up with my kids in the back seat and I knew this is just a song that I should sing."

The singer is quite aware that she will get criticised for her musical choice with Wallflower, with some wondering if she is moving away from jazz.

"I have the right to do what I want, actually," she says. "Don't you have the desire just to play and have fun just because you can?"

Foster also defends Krall's direction.

"Ever since she's been singing, every album has been described as a departure for her … but she sees it's more of an adventure," Foster says. "Her next album, I'm sure will be entirely different from this one. That's what great artists do. They move forward, they don't look back, they don't look sideways - they only look forward."

Foster adds that, in the beginning, he wanted to put some jazz skills into the album but Krall really didn't want that: she wanted to remain true to what she remembered of the music as a teenager.

"What she said was, 'There's plenty of time for jazz, and jazz is a big part of my life, but this I want to remain the way I remember the songs.' She was very disciplined about that. So that was my mandate," Foster says.

Even if this latest album is more pop than usual, jazz is still a passion. For example, one of Krall's twin sons has figured out a way to get mother's approval for a video game.

"He'll say, 'Mummy, can I please watch this? It has jazz on it'."