Critically lauded, award-winning jazz artist Diana Krall has spent the better part of the past two decades delivering cool and smoky renditions of jazz classics, traditional pop hits and bluesy ballads.
With a dash of seductive elegance and a smoky contralto, the soulful vocalist/pianist has delved into a variety of styles over the years, from early ragtime numbers and popular love ballads of the Nat King Cole Trio to the exotic Brazilian rhythms of Antonio Carlos Jobim and the pop faves of the modern era.
This week, Krall and her combo will visit the Lowcountry in support of her latest collection “Wallflower” (Verve), a moody and loungy album comprised of clever reworkings of various pop/rock hits and deep cuts from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
To some, the new album may seem like an unexpected detour toward the pop world, but fans who’ve appreciated Krall’s long-running, boundless sense of experimentation will surely dig the way Krall embraces and reworks the melodies and moods of the featured songs.
Born in 1964 in British Columbia, Canada, Krall grew up playing and singing a variety of musical styles. In the early 1980s, she attended the esteemed Boston’s Berklee College of Music on a scholarship.
Based in New York City in the early ’90s, she concentrated on performing and recording with small combos around the Big Apple scene. She released her earliest studio recordings on Justin Time Records and the GRP label before signing to Impulse Records in ’96 and releasing her major breakthrough collection, a tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio titled “All for You.”
This spring’s “Wallflower World Tour” will feature an eclectic mix of standards and more with Krall either situated at a Steinway grand piano or a lone vocal mic with backing from guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Dennis Crouch, violinist Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren. Pulling from an elegant repertoire, the small ensemble will highlight much of the new album along with several fan favorites from Krall’s 20-year discography.
Touching on many of Krall’s favorite songs of her younger years, “Wallflower” is something of a personal musical biography. While there are a few obscure and contemporary selections in the set, the vast majority draws from the mellow gold of classic AM radio.
The new album kicks off with a sparse and breathy reworking of the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” (by way of Jose Feliciano’s 1968 version) with light piano, keys and percussion.
The waltzy title track “Wallflower,” a rendition of an early ’70s composition by Bob Dylan, stands out with handsome string arrangements and spare electric guitar accents.
A simple and respectfully piano-driven version of “Desperado,” penned by Glenn Frey and Don Henley, is one of two Eagles hits in the set. Krall and company put a breezy twist on “I Can’t Tell You Why” as well with extra harp, a groovy electric piano solo and a slow-rolling bossa nova rhythm.
Some of the softer moments on “Wallflower” include a whispery rendition of the Carpenters’ “Superstar,” a tasteful cover of Paul McCartney’s “If I Take You Home Tonight,” and a piano-based, cleverly orchestral version of “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” originally written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, one of the bluest ballads of the set.
There are two impressive duets among the tracks. Krall shares the mic with swing/lounge singer Michael Buble on a version of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s melodic ’70s hit “Alone Again (Naturally),” and the pairing works nicely. She shares lead melodies and harmonies with raspy veteran pop-rocker Bryan Adams on “Feels Like Home,” a Randy Newman-penned piano ballad previously rendered by Linda Ronstadt in 1995.
With tasteful instrumentation and extra harmonies from her backing combo, “Operator (That’s Not the Way it Feels),” one of the more upbeat hits by late folk-rock songsmith Jim Croce, stands out as another dynamic track of the collection. Krall’s stripped-down take on British pop band 10cc’s hit “I’m Not in Love” works well, too. Album producer David Foster’s skillful touch shines with the brass and string sections swelling up between verses and choruses.
The “Wallflower” set concludes with a dynamic arrangement of “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” the sophisticated 1980s pop hit by Crowded House (composed by frontman Neil Finn). This track displays the two moody sides of the album: the jazzy/lounge orchestral side and the tight, band/combo pop side.
Overall, “Wallflower” enhances the notion that Krall’s well-regarded skills and sensibilities provide a wonderful vehicles for any standard tune, vintage or modern. She still knows how to deliver a lyric with the perfect emotional implication, no matter the genre.