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Relighting the torch

Torch singing wore thin for me a long time ago, around the time when all young female singers suddenly wanted to sound like Julie London and look like Rita Hayworth. Charlie Haden briefly rekindled the flame when he embedded Jo Stafford’s 1944 recording of “Alone Together” in his Quartet West album Always Say Goodbye in the early ’90s, and then did the job more thoroughly in a 2010 album called Sophisticated Ladies, for which invited a group of well known female singers to perform standards with the quartet plus strings. In the meantime I’d also fallen for Shirley Horn’s version of Tom Jobim’s “Once I Loved, included by the film director Pedro Almodóvar on a compilation album called Viva La Tristeza.

Among Haden’s sophisticated ladies was Diana Krall, chosen by Haden to sing Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye”, one of my favourite ballads. I knew who she was, of course, but I always thought that if I needed what she did, I’d turn to Ms Horn. Now she’s proved me completely wrong with a new self-produced album called This Dream of You, consisting of 11 standards plus the title song, which is by Bob Dylan: pure torch singing in all its sloe-eyed sultriness, but controlled by an intelligence that knows how to turn its facets to catch the flickers of candlelight.

Krall has the regulation come-hitherness, but she also has the musicianship that inspired her to call on the services of several different musical units to join her own piano and voice: the guitarist Anthony Wilson, the bassist John Clayton Jr and the drummer Jeff Hamilton for lovely versions of “But Beautiful” and “Almost Like Being in Love”, Christian McBride’s bass and Russell Malone’s guitar for “Autumn in New York” and “There’s No You”, and the piano of Alan Broadbent (who arranged Sophisticated Ladies) to accompany her singing on “More Than You Know” and “Don’t Smoke in Bed”.

The most intriguing group, however, consists of Marc Ribot (guitar), Stuart Duncan (violin), Randall Krall (accordion), Tony Garnier (bass) and Karriem Riggins (drums). Together they’re heard on a light-fingered “Just You, Just Me”, the lovely Tex-Mex-tinged title track (plucked from Dylan’s Together Through Life), and “How Deep Is the Ocean”. The last of those, which you can click on above, is — as I’m sure you’ll agree — a complete stunner, Irving Berlin’s blithe love song transformed into a blues aria and perfect in every respect, particularly the short piano improvisation preceding the final chorus: 10 exquisitely funky bars of which Ray Charles or Bobby Timmons would be proud. Compliments to Ms Krall on that, and on everything else making up a quietly outstanding album.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful. She’s a great piano player and I wish she would make an instrumental album, as Nat King Cole did with Penthouse Serenade.

    October 1, 2020
  2. You have such great taste Richard which makes your pieces both informative and a joy to read. I’d always marked Diana Krall down as fluent and very able but lacking an element of tragedy, depth or gravitas to make her really interesting (though her liaison with Elvis Costello is intriguing). I suspect this album could be a game changer. I would be inclined to put just a pinch of reverb on the vocal of ‘How Deep…’ but I look forward to hearing the rest. Thank you!

    October 1, 2020
  3. Pete Wingfield #

    I agree with both the above. Roll on that instrumental piano set, and yes, lovely track but just a touch of reverb on her voice would have made all the difference!

    October 1, 2020
  4. GuitarSlinger #

    First off Mr Williams .. with all due respect … albeit rarely .. once again we find ourselves diametrically opposed in our opinion of Ms Krall’s latest ‘ effort ‘ . Here’s why ( in my never humble opinion ) ;

    1- Tis more than a bit ironic that after the Jazz ( business ) world shoved Cassandra Wilson aside ( along with Kurt Elling Cassandra and Kurt are the two most creative and original jazz singers since Nina Simone ) … here’s the queen of superstar lounge singers trying once again to go down the same route .

    ( Ms Krall went down a similar road once before with T Bone Burnett and his ” KillSquad ” session players in tow ..)

    2 – In regards to the above ; With similar results to Ms Krall’s past efforts at originality . Proving once again that both vocally , musically and instrumentally Ms Krall does not have the grit or soul to be playing on this ball field . e.g. She is out of her league and should stick to the lounge image she’s cultivated so strenuously

    3- Good lord … Having heard the whole thing .. Marc Ribot’s playing on this album sounds .. constrained to the point of being strangled . To Mr Ribot’s great credit he pulls it off with his usual consistency … but where’s the REAL Marc Ribot we all know and love ?

    ( Which begs the question … why bring a creative talent the level of Marc Ribot into the studio when your intention from the get go was to tie his [ creative ] hands behind his back ? )

    Fact is … there’s a thousand or more competent players out there that could of pulled it off just as well .. without being constrained

    4 – As for Stuart Duncan’s inclusion ? Again .. why bother if you’re not going to let him do what he does best ? For the name recognition/ value ? Even thats a reach as hardly anyone outside of Bluegrass even knows who the ( bleep ) Stuart Duncan is ( which is a shame )

    Conclusion ; Once again another Krall album that’ll never darken the mat of my turntable nor the drawer of my cd player ..

    October 1, 2020
  5. Yup. I’ve had 3 Krall CDs for 15 years or so. Enjoyed them. Then a few years ago, when I was building my library of nearly every Miles album, I discovered Shirley Horn because Miles liked her. I now consider Ms Krall to be a nice vocalist, but she ain’t no Horn.

    October 1, 2020

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