It's never been important whether Diana Krall deserved to be classified as a jazz singer. The greater question has always been how to listen to her music without slipping into a boredom-induced coma.
Yes, Krall can sing. Yet her voice just lies there without a twitch of genuine passion or emotion. She made her name as an interpreter of American standards, but in approach and execution, her renditions come across like the kind of background music best suited for fussy restaurants. Krall doesn't butcher songs. Her versions are well sung, tasteful, and delivered without an ounce of fire or fun. She makes Norah Jones sound like Patti LaBelle.
Since Krall's selections have often been closely associated with such icons as Frank Sinatra ("I've Got You Under My Skin") or Nat King Cole ("A Blossom Fell"), maybe her interpretations are doomed to pale in comparison. Perhaps that's why Krall's latest CD may mollify those underwhelmed by her earlier efforts.
"The Girl in the Other Room" steers clear of the great American songbook and showcases Krall as a songwriter, as well as a singer and pianist. With her husband, Elvis Costello, she co-wrote six of the dozen songs here. These are essentially traditional pop records, lightly seasoned with jazz accents, ably supplied by such noted musicians as drummers Peter Erskine and Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Christian McBride. Go to www.boston.com/ae/
music to hear clips from "The Girl in the Other Room." In interviews, Krall has said her focus on songwriting was inspired by two life-altering events: her mother's death and meeting and marrying Costello. Though Krall and Costello share writing credits, she has acknowledged that Costello wrote most of the words. This is probably the reason for the lyrical bite of the title song and "Abandoned Masquerade." On the latter track, Krall sings of a woman who masks her emotional truths until she's forced to shed her illusions. Krall's singing is too demure for what's a fairly caustic song, but her assured piano playing nudges the piece in the right directions. (This latter point has been an asset throughout Krall's decade-long, Grammy-winning career.)
This being a Krall album, there are still several covers. She takes a passable stab at Costello's "Almost Blue," which has been covered by everyone from Chet Baker to Everything But the Girl. Less successful is her swing and miss with "Love Me Like a Man," a Chris Smither song made famous by Bonnie Raitt. Krall tries to give it her own bluesy spin, but she simply can't out-blues Bonnie. Her best moments are found in Tom Waits's "Temptation." Krall has rarely sounded so sly and playful, and the song hints that with the right material, she can be quite affecting.