Elvis Costello interviews Diana Krall
Music video by Diana Krall performing Glad Rag Doll. (C) 2012 The Verve Music Group, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.
Diana Krall’s 11th studio album.
There are good things here, even some revelations. All 17 tunes, including two alternate versions, were found in her father’s considerable collection of 78 records where she found rarities such as “Just Like a Butterfly That’s Caught in the Rain,” first recorded by Harry Richman in 1927.
In choosing mainly from the late vaudeville-era songbook, Krall — without rival in contextualizing the songs she records — has insightfully tapping into an enormous wellspring of material ignored by pretty much everyone else since Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald arrived on the scene.
Yet the revelation that may be most relevant comes almost halfway through the album, where Krall frames herself as a country artist. Never the most agile of singers, Krall finds her heavy, husky vocals are well suited to “I’m A Little Mixed Up,” a 1961 Betty James tune revamped here as rockabilly, as well as Billy Hill’s “Prairie Lullaby” and “Let It Rain,” where Krall’s pared-to-the-bone piano playing recalls Floyd Cramer’s.
If the CD and this review were to stop here, all would be good. Maybe the considerable downside has to do with its famously rootsy producer, T Bone Burnett. Glad Rag Doll is choc-a-block with utterly unlistenable moments, murky production and heavy-handed playing, notably from drummer Jay Bellerose who approaches everything as if it were a march. This supposedly “old time” heavy-on-the beat approach totally messes with Krall’s singing.
What Glad Rag Doll might have sounded like is given away by its four “bonus tracks,” each produced by Krall accompanying herself on piano. Her playful version of “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears,” with its classy Tin Pan Alley verve, makes a mockery of Burnett’s lumpen approach with all its fake authenticity.
Now I understand why the image of the manipulated doll appears visually and musically in the CD. Perhaps it’s Krall’s way of sending us a message looking for help.
Glad Rag Doll make clear, only follows for those who can make their own choices. That’s what fights for justice, large and small, have always been about. The fruits of those pitched battles can be found in moments like this: Krall has fashioned an album of gutsy choices, right down to the cover-girl getup in the style of the Ziegfeld Follies photographs taken by Alfred Cheney Johnston nearly 100 years ago.