CD Review – Diana Krall “Glad Rag Doll”
An Americana-Jazz Fusion Album?
I just picked up an mp3 version of Diana Krall’s October 2012 album, “Glad Rag Doll” (Deluxe Version) (Verve) from Amazon.com.
This album is extraordinary and a huge departure for Krall. She chose T Bone Burnett to produce the album and his alt-country/Americana sensibilities are stamped all over the album. It is indeed a delicious fusion of jazz, blues and Americana. There’s no violin section on this album; her string section instead consists of guitars, both electric and acoustic. Jazz purists, still tutting over husband Elvis Costello’s influence on Krall’s jazz sound, have to be in conniptions over this album.
The songs are largely from the 20s and 30s. Krall says she culled the songs from her father’s collection of old 78s. Choosing my favorite cuts from the album is tricky business and I’m sure that if asked a few days from now, I might have an entirely new list. As for now, however, I have to go with “Lonely Avenue,” “There Ain’t No Sweet Man that’s Worth the Salt of my Tears” and title track, “Glad Rag Doll.”
Krall’s version of Don Pomus’ R&B hit, “Lonely Avenue” has an ethereal feeling, with lots of blues guitar work and it ends in a beautiful cacophony of sound. Pomis’ tune has been covered by countless artists over the years, including Ray Charles, who had a hit with the song in 1956, Joe Cocker, The Animals, Taj Mahal and even Jimmy Hendrix. I prefer Krall’s version. “There Ain’t No Sweet Man,” a song with too long a title, opens with a familiar Krall sound — the artist alone on the piano — but it quickly morphs into a rollicking two-step blues tune with lots of fuzzy blues guitar work. Without the liner notes, I don’t know which of the four guitarists on the album did the guitar work on this song, but it’s masterful and complements Krall’s smoky vocals perfectly. “Glad Rag Doll” is a 1928 Milton Ager and Jack Yellen tune composed for the 1929 talkie picture of the same name. Krall’s version of the song is beautifully spare, featuring only Krall’s vocals and an acoustic guitar. The alternative version of “Rag Doll” on the Deluxe version of the album is equally spare but uses piano instead of the acoustic guitar. I prefer the guitar version.
The album is thoughtfully produced. None of the songs feels over-produced or unnecessarily complicated. My quarrel with a lot of commercial music is the tendency to over-produce the songs with scores of layered vocals and strings. Even some of Krall’s prior songs have a little more violin than I think is necessary. Each added instrument on this album, by contrast, has a necessary role to play in the song. On “Glad Rag Doll,” Burnett wisely left Krall’s voice and the sole acoustic guitar alone.
If you buy the album, don’t make the mistake I did. It comes in a standard and Deluxe version, the latter adds four additional songs to the 13-cut album, including alternative versions of “Glad Rag Doll” and “There Ain’t No Sweet Man.” The Deluxe version is only an additional dollar on Amzon.com. Unfortunately, when I purchased the album, I didn’t know about the Deluxe version and grabbed the first link I found. Because the sample tracks for the four bonus tracks were sufficiently compelling, I ended up buying them separately at 99 cents a pop. (Ouch!) To make matters worse, neither my computer nor my smartphone recognize that they are part of the same album; rather, they both list the standard and Deluxe versions as separate albums and I cannot simply listen to the whole album without creating a separate playlist solely to put the two albums together.
As you have probably gathered, I highly recommend this new Krall album. I’ve been playing it through over and over again since purchasing it. As with a lot of Burnett’s work, it isn’t easy to pigeonhole this album cleanly into a single genre. Fortunately, the Americana community is forgiving on that score and I would anticipate that no one will complain that the album is out of place when I cross-publish this blog on my NoDepression.com account. (NoDepression is a website dedicated to Americana music.) Jazz purists who dismiss this album as departing too far from traditional Jazz modalities, will sadly miss what is also an outstanding Jazz album.
While this may not be a good reason to buy the album (or maybe it is), Diana Krall, at 48 years old (and a mother of two), looks incredibly sexy posed as a Ziegfeld girl on the cover. In an interview appearing in the Wall Street Journal, Krall explained that she was only trying to illustrate the title and the 1920s theme. (WSJ, “Diana Krall Sings With No Strings Attached,” by Marc Meyers, Sept. 20, 2012.)
Here are the cuts on the Deluxe version of the album. The standard version omits the bonus cuts after the carnival barker (Costello) brings the curtain down on cut number 13 (another great tune).
Song List for Glad Rag Doll (Deluxe Version) (Verve)
1. We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye (Woods)
2. There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears (Fisher)
3. Just Like a Butterfly That’s Caught in the Rain (Dixon/Woods)
4. You Know I Know Ev’rything’s Made for Love (Sherman/Tobias/Johnson)
5. Glad Rag Doll (Ager/Dougherty/Yellen)
6. I’m A Little Mixed Up (James/Johnson)
7. Prairie Lullaby (Hill)
8. Here Lies Love (Rainger/Robin)
9. I Used to Love You But It’s All Over Now (von Tilzer/Brown)
10. Let it Rain (Kendis/Dyson)
11. Lonely Avenue (Pomus)
12. Wide River to Cross (Miller/Miller)
13. When the Curtain Comes Down (Hoefle/Lewis/Sherman)
14. As Long As I Love
15. Glad Rag Doll (Alternate version)
16. Garden In The Rain
17. There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt Of My Tears (Alternate version)
This blog post first appeared on my music blog at scottcthompson.posterous.com