Nine years ago Diana Krall was emerging as an elegant poster-girl of smooth jazz. The sultry Canadian blonde released an acclaimed album of covers, “reinvented” by her own style of seductive acoustic jazz, and which swept through the whole gamut of “love” moods.
Since her debut album Only Trust Your Heart in 1995, she has gone on to release Love Scenes, All For You and The Look Of Love, which have all built on her popularity. But it was with When I Look In Your Eyes that she became a commercial success in 1998, winning two Grammy awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.
So it should be with surprise that Krall fans greet her latest album The Girl In The Other Room. It is a tumultuous journey into her dark corners of grief, with only flickers of hope and warmth. And this is not an album full of covers either. She co-penned six out of the 12 tracks with new hubbie Elvis Costello.
Her collaboration with Costello isn’t the main reason for this side-swerve. While working on the album her mother passed away from cancer at 54. Krall’s grief, heartache, and a gradual re-engagement with her life are all found in this emotionally turbulent album. Her soul is laid bare. Her secret world opened up. And this is all heard through a filter of dusty jazz and midnight blues.
The album starts with Mose Allison‘s Stop This World, a song that rolls up its sleeves with the lyrics, “Stop this world, I want to get off, too many pigs, in the same trough.” It is strongly sung by Krall with her golden soft voice. However, it is the title track that exposes the album’s soul. The song is about a girl who “darkens her lash”, “draws lipstick scrawls on the wall” and who “… hears murmurs low, the paper is peeling, her eyes staring straight at the ceiling.” The loneliness is tacit and delicate.
It is as though the album takes on a life of its own, a multi-layered human being with its own highs and lows when experiencing grief. The listener is slowly glided through Tom Waits‘ sexy number Temptation, then it’s dusky melancholy again with Costello’s tearful Almost Blue.
I’ve Changed My Address is, by Krall’s standards, deliciously seedy and is followed by her sexually-charged 12-bar bluesy Love Me Like A Man, with lyrics including, “I want a man to rock me like my backbone was his own.” Oo-er.
Herzog‘s gently uplifting I’m Pulling Through is an ode to a caring friend, followed by Joni Mitchell‘s carefree Black Crow.
In Krall’s softly sung Narrow Daylight we experience a re-emergence from the dark. She sings: “Narrow daylight enters the room, winter is over, summer is near.” But then despair strikes again with Abandoned Masquerade, a mournful song redolent of a last dance in a lonely jazz hall. The honesty is heart-rending – “I hope you never feel this much despair, or know the meaning of that empty chair.”
Krall’s I’m Coming Through is a lighter, hazier song with flighty jazz guitar solos. Then the journey ends with Krall’s deeply evocative Departure Bay, that features “the fading sounds of summer-time” and the house that is “bare of Christmas lights.”
Yet this album doesn’t just take you on Krall’s journey, it’s not that self-indulgent. The lyrics are universal, the jazz a whole tapestry of moods. The Girl In The Other Room is a melancholy and beautifully-crafted body of work, full of evocative images and sounds. It not only shows Krall to be a superb song-writer but also the real woman behind that elegant poster-girl.