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I was never much of a fan of jazz music. Until, that was, Lucy Woodward started leaning that way with her 2008 release of her second album "...Is Hot & Bothered" and completed her move to jazz singer with her third, 2010's "Hooked!" In seeking out new artists to expend my experience of this new genre, the name of Diana Krall came up again and again and so it made sense to check out the latest album from such a highly respected artist, that album being "Glad Rag Doll".
The album starts quite gently, with "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye". It's a slow pace track with a laid back jazz sound, largely pulled along by a gentle guitar and Krall's vocals, with a few other instruments coming in later on with a tinkly piano break in the middle. It really is a song to be played when you have no other distractions and if you can have a roaring fire and a glass of brandy to hand, so much the better. It's a song that will soothe your troubles and has such a positive lyrical outlook that you'll finish it with a satisfied smile on your face.
After this, the upbeat piano opening to "There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt Of My Tears" is a slight shock, but the longer the song goes, the more welcoming it is. It's an upbeat and up tempo jazz influenced number with a decent guitar sound and a rocking double bass line over the back that gives the whole thing a slight rock and roll touch, but it's a fun jazz song through and through and another enjoyable number.
The opening guitar to "Just Like a Butterfly That's Caught in the Rain" suggests the song could go either way, but it's ultimately another slower number. It has early hints of something a little Latin, but soon settles down into another slower tempo jazz number where, once again, Krall's smooth, clear vocal is allowed to come through. The lyrics don't have quite the same positivity as the opening track, but it's another one that washes over the listener quite easily.
The tempo is increased again for "I Know, You Know, Everything's Made For Love", although a very low key opening doesn't give this away at first. There is a jazz influence here, combined with a jaunty little beat that makes me want to smile every time I hear it. It's a very happy sounding song, with such an upbeat vibe it sounds like it should be on the soundtrack to one of the old Disney animated films.
Continuing to mix up the tempo, "Glad Rag Doll" is a slower track once more. It's led by guitar and vocal again, but this time it has a more wistful, sadder edge to the lyric, perfectly expressed through Krall's smoky and understated vocal. Despite holding the same low tempo and the same gentle jazz influence of a couple of the earlier tracks, this is a song for reflection and memory, not one to make you smile. It's completely beautiful and I could listen to it forever if I didn't think it would make me cry at some point.
As if to shake that feeling off, "I'm a Little Mixed Up" is a wondrously enjoyable piece of old style bar blues, with a rock and roll guitar riff running through it that counterpoints Krall's vocal without ever overpowering it in the way the music sometimes can. It's perfectly produced and perfectly performed all the way along and it's a little piece of fun that I can't help but enjoy and tap my foot along in time to.
"Prairie Lullaby" takes us back to the slower paced tunes, this time more of a waltz than anything particularly jazzy. Once again, it's a moment for wistful reflection and in the vocal and music, you can easily summon up a picture of a cowboy sitting by his fire at the end of a long day in the saddle, with only his horses and the stars for company. This is the kind of gentle song that would send you to sleep in the best possible way. It's relaxing and sweet and beautiful.
There is a wonderfully understated opening to "Here Lies Love", before it gets more of a jazzy tone and there is a moment part way through when I'm expecting Krall to break into "Cry Me a River". This is a big band sounding number that largely left the big band behind. It's got a little too much happening and a touch too much variation to allow the listener to fully relax and switch off, but it's still got the simple feel that suggests very little effort was expended making it, as it feels so natural.
The opening to "I Used to Love You, But It's All Over Now" is a simple vocal and guitar, but you can hear something in Krall's voice that suggests it's just waiting for the right moment to break out. When that moment comes, the song breaks into a jazz club feel that grooves along quite happily, but both music and vocal seem to come with a mischievous glint in their eye, making it feel like the kind of song that would hypnotise you and steal your wallet, just for fun, yet leaving you happy even when you realise you've been robbed.
The acoustic guitar that opens "Let It Rain" has a slight country twang to it, but the song itself comes at you as a fairly straight ballad, which succeeds because it is so simple. It's closest in sound to "Prairie Lullaby" on this album, with a slight hint of a waltz, but also retaining the sort of wistful tones that have featured on previous tracks. It's a fairly long song, especially by modern standards, but you don't notice the passing of time as you listen, so effective is the passing of the song.
There's a darker tone developing on "Lonely Avenue", evoking a feel of walking through a city late at night with the rain pouring down. This should be the soundtrack to a Raymond Chandler era detective film, where the main character has just had his heart broken and walks the streets looking for answers. It's got a gorgeous blues feel, with a long blues influenced guitar solo that works perfectly, but sits just in the background and adding to the noir feel of the whole song and leads wonderfully into a jazz influenced piano break. The song is just shy of 7 minutes long, but you get so lost in it, that it feels like you're being thrust back into reality at the end.
"Wide River to Cross" opens with a sort of country twang again and turns into something beautiful. The wistful contemplative song is back and if it weren't for the fact that the harmonies were in a male vocal, I could almost have mistaken this for a Courtyard Hounds track. The country influence remains all the way through, but you can also almost hear it working with a gospel choir in the background. Once again, the vocals and music provide the mood and it's an elegantly beautiful track.
Unfortunately, the album closes with the one track that really didn't work for me. "When the Curtain Comes Down" tries to add layers on top of what has come before and struggles for trying to do a little too much. There's an old European style feel to the track that Edith Piaf might have done well with, but the shouted opening and close have a carnival feel that might work elsewhere, but in the context of this particular album, it stands out and doesn't even come close to fitting in anywhere.
That said, it's a single jarring note in what has been a smooth and flawless album in all other ways, mixing reflection, relaxation and sheer enjoyment with a little jazz and a little blues. It's got a classic sound, but it's perfect for the modern age, as it's designed to strip the busyness of life away from you. At 13 tracks and roughly 57 minutes of playing time, it has plenty of time to weave its magic and you'll be under the spell of the album long before the end and after paying only £8.99 from Amazon, or £8.25 for a used copy, or £7.49 for the download, you won't have had to add to your worries by spending all your money before you let Krall take them away.
There is also a Deluxe version of the album available which contains 2 additional songs and 2 alternative versions of the songs on the album and adds roughly 10 minutes extra material, but this will set you back £12.80 new or £9.86 including postage for a used copy, so you need to be sure you're going to enjoy the album before buying this version. That album is a little more likely to put you under a little more financial concerns it will attempt to then sweep away, but the shorter album is certainly enough for me to lose my cares and enjoy over and over again and it's calming and beautiful and effective every single time I do.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye
2 There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth the Salt of My Tears
3 Just Like a Butterfly That's Caught in the Rain
4 You Know I Know Ev'rything's Made for Love
5 Glad Rag Doll
6 I'm A Little Mixed Up
7 Prairie Lullaby
8 Here Lies Love
9 I Used to Love You But It's All Over Now
10 Let it Rain
11 Lonely Avenue
12 Wide River to Cross
13 When the Curtain Comes Down