Diana Krall and Madeleine Peyroux probably don't get mentioned in the same breath very often, but you could make a case for that. Both jazz artists have new albums that recast well-known standards but with markedly different results.
You can't really slight Krall's albums for the way they sound. They're unequivocally impeccable. Sumptuous arrangements and crisp production cradle Krall's piano playing and dusky vocals, and her choice of material is generally excellent. You can, however, question how compelling and enduring the music is.
More than 15 years into her highly successful career, Krall releases her 10th album, ``From This Moment On," today on Verve . Excluding last year's holiday album, it's the follow-up -- some might say rebound -- to ``The Girl in the Other Room," Krall's 2004 album that featured original songs co-written with hubby Elvis Costello.
Fans who balked at her singer-songwriter detour, and many did, will be elated to hear ``From This Moment On," a swinging return of the Diana Krall who will forever remind listeners of the sultry white jazz singers before her, most notably Julie London.
``Moment" is Krall's big-band album, full of upbeat tunes worthy of her idols, particularly Nat King Cole and Fred Astaire. And there's no discounting the energy and pizzazz. With the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra superbly backing her, Krall dives heartily into the material, proving she's just as effective a crooner as an Anita O'Day-caliber swinger. ``Day In , Day Out" encapsulates this spirit, with Krall just one step ahead of her fellow musicians: She's leading this dance, not them.
For such a razzle-dazzle album, it's the quieter moments that are most revealing. On ``Little Girl Blue," Krall finds new and exciting ways to mine the melancholy of lines such as, ``Why won't somebody send a tender blue boy/ To cheer up little girl blue?" It reminds you of Blossom Dearie's definitive, sad-eyed take on Rodgers & Hart's ``Manhattan."
But a bottle of chardonnay and a plate of brie later, what does this album leave you with? Not much, unfortunately. ``From This Moment On" indeed marks a different direction for Krall, but the safety and caution of her previous albums remain intact. Maybe her fans prefer it that way, but for the rest of us, we're still waiting to be surprised with a real curveball (perhaps an album of Kurt Weill songs?). You know Krall has it in her.
Not that any amount of criticism will keep this from being a huge success. After all, brunch and dinner parties happen every day.
By contrast, Peyroux's new album on Rounder, ``Half the Perfect World," demonstrates what Krall could have accomplished. It's Peyroux's most enjoyable and mature work yet, the moment that could finally win over the skeptics who dismiss her as a Billie Holiday wannabe. Here she finally sounds like she's coming into her own.
The formula hews closely to her last album, 2004's ``Careless Love" -- a mix of Tin Pan Alley staples and singer-songwriter standards (from Joni Mitchell , Serge Gainsbourg , and Leonard Cohen , an obvious favorite).
With ``Half the Perfect World," Peyroux has made an honest singer-songwriter album. Which is not to say that her original songs are the best (she co-wrote three of them with producer Larry Klein and Jesse Harris , and another with Klein and Steely Dan's Walter Becker ), but rather she has made other people's songs her own. She turns Fred Neil's oft-covered ``Everybody's Talkin' " into a drawn-out meditation on self-awareness, forever banishing memories of Harry Nilsson's version.
SAMPLE KRALL AND PEYROUX Check out audio clips from their new CDs at www.boston.com/clips.
A similar approach to Tom Waits's ``(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night" doesn't fare as well, though. Her timing is too straight-ahead, and without the barroom grit of Waits's original, it sounds little more than a hollow reading.
But a duet with k.d. lang on Mitchell's ``River" is a
(It also marks an understated return to form for lang, after too many years of relegating herself to impressive but predictable power belting.)
Charlie Chaplin's ``Smile," foot-tappingly charming with flourishes of ukulele, is a perfect fit for Peyroux, a sweet feather of a song brimming with hope. When she sings, ``Light up your face with gladness/ Hide every trace of sadness," you're really left with no other choice.