Diana Krall - Wallflower (2015), Pure Pop Perfection on Her Twelfth Album
Diana Krall's new album, Wallflower (her twelfth), out today, is a collection of well-loved pop songs mostly from the seventies. Diana says, “A lot of the songs on Wallflower are ones I grew up loving on the radio and on vinyl, songs I heard at home. These are songs I’ve been singing to myself for years. I just needed the lyric sheet to make sure I wasn’t singing the wrong words all this time. I got the 45 for “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. I listened to Bryan Adams all the time. My parents and I both loved Linda Ronstadt, who was my inspiration to sing ‘Desperado.’ I even had a Peter Frampton poster on the wall. I was just a typical teenager hanging out with friends, not just listening to jazz."
1. California Dreamin' - "California Dreamin'" was written by John and Michelle Phillips and released by the Mamas & Papas in 1965. In this lush sounding update, Graham Nash adds backing vocals. The song starts out kind of dreamy and dramatic, but when the band kicks in there is an inexplicable laser beat that sounds like a drum machine. We know that it can't possibly be a drum machine, producer David Foster would never use a drum machine, right? I just listened to it again and damn, it sure sounds like a drum machine. This isn't so much a cover version as it is an interpretation, and on that level it succeeds nicely.
2. Desperado - "Desperado" (Glenn Frey and Don Henley) is the title track of the Eagles 1972 album. This song has a beautiful arrangement of piano, vocal, and strings. This is a cover of Linda Ronstadt's cover of this achingly beautiful song. It sounds every bit as good today as it did forty years ago.
3. Superstar - The 1971 hit by The Carpenters was written in 1969 by Bonnie Bramlett, Leon Russell, and Delaney Bramlett and was called "Groupie (Superstar)" in its original release by Delaney and Bonnie. Although I consider Karen Carpenter's voice to be the end all and be all of pop music, Diana's version is a stunningly beautiful mix of just voice and strings; a slower and more adult lament. Diana's "Superstar" is different from, but totally holds its own as compared to The Carpenters'.
4. Alone Again (Naturally) - If you hated the Gilbert O'Sullivan original, which was inescapable in 1972, you are in for a treat. O'Sullivan's sing-songy, almost happy-go-lucky sounding vocal belied the serious nature of the lyric; the singer threatens suicide after being left at the alter, and that's just in the first verse. Diana's brilliant duet with Michael Bublé plumbs the richness of the many emotions in this song. The arrangement and construction of the duet show off the expertise of producer Foster; she's sings a verse, he sings a verse, they sing a section together, then they go back and forth all topped off by a tasty guitar solo.
5. Wallflower - Written by Bob Dylan in 1971 for, but not included on, the Self-Portrait album, "Wallflower" is the first unfamiliar song on the record. It has it all; poignant emotional lyrics, beautiful vocal by Diana, excellent band with guest guitarist Blake Mills, and strings deftly applied by Foster, showing why he's the master of this kind of material.
6. If I Take You Home Tonight - This is another major winner. "If I Take You Home Tonight" is an unreleased Paul McCartney song, written for his Kisses on the Bottom album but not used. Diana explained on NPR that she worked with McCartney on that album, loved the song, and when he didn't use it she got up the courage to ask if she could record it. This is the happy result.
7. I Can't Tell You Why - I've always loved this Timothy B. Schmit song from the Eagles' 1979 album, The Long Run (Schmit, Frey, and Henley). Diana apparently does too, and she applies a little bossa nova flavor as she turns in possibly the most expressive vocal performance of her career. Foster also shows off a bit by placing some agreeable background vocal choruses during Diana's piano solo.
8. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word - Diana doesn't stray far from the Elton John original (1976). As with the last track, Diana sings her heart out on this, one of John and Taupin's most serious and emotional songs. "My biggest influence beside Oscar Peterson is Elton John,” Diana says. “I have a picture somewhere of Christmas morning when Elton John's Blue Moves album came out. I wanted that album so badly. The photo is of me when I was 16 with my mom and my dad holding that album. I used to listen to it downstairs on my record player. I had a Rhodes down there so I could play along. Over the years Elton has become like family. A while back we sang ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ together on my husband Elvis Costello’s TV show Spectacle. So many Elton songs mean so much to me but that one in particular is special."
9. Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) - Jim Croce had a string of hits during the seventies, great songs all, but "Operator" (1972) is an interesting choice. A gem of a song, Diana once again slows it down a tad and reveals the bittersweet tone of the lyrics, something that was easy to miss in Croce's breezy hit version. Foster again applies his producer magic, the first verse with just voice, piano, and a touch of strings. Then the band kicks in, minimally, with just bass, drums, and some tasteful guitar.
10. I'm Not In Love - 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" (Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, 1975) had a lovely melody and some production firepower all it's own. I don't think I've ever heard a cover, but "I'm Not In Love" is ripe for a version like this. It begins as almost a lounge arrangement, then Foster works his production wizardry resulting in a gorgeous setting in which Diana revels in the delicious combination of melody and a lyric that says one thing but means the opposite.
11. Feels Like Home - This 1995 composition by Randy Newman gets an affectionate duet treatment, Diana singing with Bryan Adams. The setting is delightfully spare (basically voices and piano for most of the song) then when the band comes in for the final verse Foster's light hand on the production makes for a perfectly pretty song. I've read that Newman intended the lyrics to be sarcastic, but Diana leaves the sarcasm out and you won't hear a lovelier love song than this rendition of "Feels Like Home".
12. Don't Dream It's Over - Crowded House's biggest hit "Don't Dream It's Over" came from their debut album in 1986, and it makes for the perfect conclusion to Wallflower. Diana totally nails the vocal, which is set in an appropriately powerful production of band and strings, which at the height of the track melt away to just voice and piano for the finish. "Recalling Neil Finn’s 'Don’t Dream It’s Over'," Diana remembers “lying on my floor when I had a little tiny apartment in Pasadena, California, listening to that song over and over. I just loved it. That song has been going around in my head since I was about 22 and I really wanted to get it right. The lyrics still feel just right for the world today.”
If it seems like I am getting more and more impressed by this record with each successive track, it's true, I am. The song selection is impeccable; older audiences will delight in hearing these great songs again, younger audiences may be in the enviable position of discovering this wonderful music for the first time. I have long enjoyed Diana's work, especially her treatment of Nat King Cole and Oscar Peterson, but with Wallflower she offers what I think are the most expressive and excellent vocals in her career to date. Listening to the album as a whole, there is a tinge of sadness to many of the songs primarily exposed by Diana's exploring the full range of emotions contained in the lyrics, as well as her choice of songs. This album is a creative triumph both for her and producer David Foster; no less than pure pop perfection.
“I have to give a lot of the credit for this album to David,” Diana says. “He’s always said, 'Let’s work together’ and finally the timing was right. I was ready to work with David and let him do what he does best. He did all of the arrangements and played a lot of the piano. He blew me away. I always knew David was good but I gained an even further appreciation for his talents as a producer and as a musician.”
That feeling proved to be extremely mutual. “Working with Diana was fantastic,” says Foster. “I always wondered what it would be like working together. I never thought this would happen because I live in this `pop’ world and Diana lives in this `jazz’ world— or at least that’s how it’s perceived. But one of the many great things about Diana, after knowing her for 25 years, is that she’s truly an outstanding pop singer. Her ability to cross over into pop was a fabulous discovery for me. I’m sure Diana secretly knew about it all along. She tends to be way ahead of the rest of us.” (Quotes courtesy of Verve Records)
Note: Amazon has an exclusive deluxe edition of Wallflower that adds four tracks, "In My Life" and "Yeh Yeh" [feat. Georgie Fame], plus two live tracks.
Wallflower (Amazon Deluxe Exclusive)
Photos courtesy of Diana Krall
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