Diana Krall 'Glad Rag Doll' (Legacy)
4 stars = Outstanding
Long before she was among the most acclaimed singer-pianists in jazz, Diana Krall was a teenager in British Columbia who absorbed her dad's 78 rpm recordings, CDs and downloads. Ms. Krall's sense of history has long been one of her strengths, an asset she shares with husband Elvis Costello.
Ten of "Glad Rag Doll's" 13 tracks center around Ms. Krall's fascination with vintage American pop tunes of the 1920s and '30s. She runs a gamut of material, originally recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Bing Crosby (long before "White Christmas"), Annette Hanshaw, singer-bandleader Ted Lewis, pioneer crooner Gene Austin, country fountainhead Jimmie Rodgers, Buddy and Julie Miller and Ray Charles.
Her passion for the older material burns through on sultry, zestful interpretations of "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye," "You Know I Know Everything's Made for Love" and the moody, bleak "Here Lies Love." The eloquent title song and Western ballad "Prairie Lullaby" each get folk-flavored treatments. "I'm a Little Mixed Up," showcasing Ms. Krall's sharp vocals and roadhouse piano, revives an obscure 1961 record by Baltimore blues singer Betty James. Charles' "Lonely Avenue" retains the 1956 original's bleak edge. Her moving spin on the Millers' pensive ballad "Wide River to Cross," recorded by the late Levon Helm, is made all the more poignant by Helm's passing in April.
Grammy-winning producer T-Bone Burnett created an effective, funky framework for Ms. Krall, avoiding his often pretentious, mannered approach that squeezes the life out of a project (case in point: Jeff Bridges' turgid 2011 album). The small, versatile and edgy studio band, centered around guitarist Marc Ribot, frames each song superbly. The album closes with "When the Curtain Comes Down," a melodramatic end-of-life number recorded in 1929 by actor-singer George Jessel, later famous as America's "Toastmaster General." Like Ms. Krall's other work, "Glad Rag Doll" is entertaining and thoroughly musical. Consider its educational qualities a fringe benefit.
-- Rich Kienzle, for the Post-Gazette
• Ellie Goulding, "Halycon": Ellie Goulding has always had two equal and opposite moving parts: little acoustic guitar or piano love songs and enormous electronic dance compositions. While these discrete impulses occasionally exist separately, one producing a set of ballads and another a series of dance-floor stunners, Ms. Goulding is at her best navigating the interstitial spaces between these two equal and oppositional forces. The supposed success or failure of "Halcyon," a record without a true radio single, boils down to Ms. Goulding's doubling of her impulse to take her listener and her emotional tragedies into an elegiac nightclub. Or, put another way, Ms. Goulding makes the choice between church and the dance floor, and largely chooses the latter. The result is pathos on steroids: The pain more acute and the tragedies more dramatic, the breaks more broken, the second movements more soaring. (Geoff Nelson, popmatters.com)
• A.C. Newman, "Shut Down the Streets": "Shut Down the Streets" is a record that is at once familiar -- New Pornographer member's falsetto is intact in bits and pieces, and there is the presence of Neko Case -- and one that ventures out into newish, more lullaby territory. Anyone expecting full-on power pop that Carl has been known for is going to be sorely disappointed. "Shut Down the Streets" essentially sees Mr. Newman acting his age to a degree, although you could say this is part of a gradual descent into quieter music that began with the New Pornographers' "Challengers," and is just the culmination of a period that has arced and become more pronounced during the past few years. (Zachary Houle, popmatters.com)
• John Cale, "Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood": You might imagine this would be a fine time for John Cale to take stock, sit back, and, at 70, enjoy elder statesman status, maybe releasing an Adult Contemporary-leaning album of standards or duets. But you know that didn't happen. "Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood" is Mr. Cale's first album of new material in seven years, and only his third since 1996. "Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood" achieves a balance between uncompromising, avant-garde sound experimentation and pure melodic beauty that is among the most seamless and convincing you will hear all year. (John Bergstrom, popmatters.com)
Other notable releases this week: Coheed and Cambria, "Afterman: Ascension"; Converge, "All We Love We Leave Behind"; Wanda Jackson, "Unfinished Business"; Kaki King, "Glow"; Kiss, "Monster"; Jeff Lynne, "Long Wave"; Barbra Streisand, "Release Me"; The Wallflowers, "Glad All Over."