Diana Krall – Wallflower
(Verve. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)
Wallflower is a new studio recording of songs garnered from the five-time Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall‘s formative years. It mostly takes familiar pop ballads from the ’60s through to the present day, often shifting them further down a gear, and colours them in with lush orchestral arrangements. For anyone who appreciated the beautifully limpid, slo-mo interpretation of I’ve Got You Under My Skin from Diana Krall‘s superb live album A Night in Paris, it will strike a pleasing chord.
Once over the disappointing absence of Krall’s improvisatory jazz piano scintillation of, say, I Love Being Here With You (2002) or cheeky, exuberant vocals heard in Love Me Like a Man (2004), the tightly-produced detail of these new recordings is enjoyable, if somewhat safe. Indeed, the commercial accessibility of the twelve radio-edit-sized songs is sure to find great appeal among smooth jazz and soft rock/pop audiences – especially as it includes vocal duets with both Michael Bublé and Bryan Adams – and no doubt it will engender a measure of ‘selling out’ criticism, too. But Krall’s closely miked, softly husky delivery can still work its magic.
The singer feels a special affinity with each of the numbers, some of which have been covered numerous times before, whilst others are less obvious gems. The Eagles’ lonesome Desperado is presented as sparse piano/vocal with the soft ebb and flow of deep strings – pleasing enough, though seeming to lack the passion of Don Henley’s original vocal (or even Karen Carpenter’s heart-tugging interpretation). The less-revisited early ’70s chart hit of Gilbert O’Sullivan, Alone Again (Naturally), is interesting – Krall sharing its resigned yet heartfelt vocals with Michael Bublé – though the inherent pop feel is difficult to understand as ‘jazz’ (if, indeed, this is intended as a jazz album – perhaps not). Leon Russell’s Superstar is more convincing, David Foster‘s sumptuous orchestration throughout matching Krall’s restrained vocals whilst providing an impressively brooding undercurrent suggestive of blockbuster movie closing titles.
The Eagles’ I Can’t Tell You Why succeeds with its lilting bossa mood and a rare snatch of jazz piano; but again it’s the orchestral inventiveness that more especially catches the ear in 10CC’s I’m Not In Love, tempered with the thought that Diana might have infused more depth of character into the vocal to make it her own. Despair and mystery encircle Elton John’s Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, particularly with its distant tolling bell, in an arrangement which again feels overridingly cinematic. The hankering for a change of pace, something perhaps brighter, is satisfied courtesy of the title track, Bob Dylan’s Wallflower – with the simpler accompaniment of string quartet and guest Blake Mills‘ bottleneck guitar, its countryfied demeanour breathes coolly amongst the album’s fuller arrangements.
One surprise is a new song by Paul McCartney. Having worked with Sir Paul on his own jazz and pop covers album Kisses on the Bottom, Krall discovered the manuscript to one of his own compositions lying around on her piano – a number that hadn’t made the final selection. So, permission granted, If I Take You Home Tonight appears here, with some delightfully recognisable McCartneyisms – and so easy to imagine his vocal above its guitar-inflected tension. Other songs include Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over, The Mamas and Papas’ California Dreamin’ (perpetuating the album’s predominant ‘lovers by the fireside’ or ‘dinner party’ coziness); and Randy Newman’s homely positivity is always a pleasure, Bryan Adams and Diana duetting here on his song Feels Like Home.
Diana Krall has surprised before, notably with her 1920s/30s-themed Glad Rag Doll release of 2012, and it’s creditable, as well as important, for any performer to explore different avenues during a hugely successful career. But a hope also remains that Krall’s creative talents – both vocal and pianistic – which are under-used here, will sparkle and push at a few boundaries once again in the future.