I’m sure…

Glad Rag Doll will garner Ms. Krall critical acclaim and more Grammy nominations for her creative exploration of turn-of-the-century (1920’s) ragtime music, but I found GRD …well, pretty much unapproachable.

I’ve mentioned many times how much I enjoy panning for new gold in the depths of the American Songbook — looking for artists and songs that I’ve not heard before. I’m “all in” on the idea of exploration.

However, to me Glad Rag Doll sounds like a Ken Burns PBS documentary soundtrack — an academic exercise — more than a pleasant exploratory listening experience.

As evidenced by the many high-concept album reviews to be found on VocalStandards.com (Sammy Davis, Sinatra, Karrin Allyson…to highlight a few), I’m clearly a big fan of theme LPs.

As such, I held out a great deal of hope for DK’s latest; but sadly I found the album’s monolithic ragtime focus jarring … detached.

Rather than a fun sense of exploration, listening to Glad Rag Doll — 17 tracks that I simply have no connection with — is wearisome. To a ragtime music aficionados GRD may be treasure, but to me it’s more like a homework assignment from music appreciation class.

(Heavy sigh) I’m truly taken aback.

This from a guy…

…that is a huge Diana Krall fan. No, really … HUGE.

I picked up Stepping Out (DK’s debut album) back around ’94 and have been a Krall zealot ever since. DK has turned out more than a dozen excellent LPs and music DVDs over the past 18 years and I own it all … except Rag Doll (unless you count my Rhapsody subscription).

The Lady VocalStandards and I regularly grab a glass of wine (OK a bottle) and settle in to watch/listen to Diana’s Live in Paris DVD … still THE best music DVD ever produced in my opinion.

But the DK wagon wheels started to wobble for me…

…with Krall’s 2009 Quiet Nights release. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to get my hands on a CD as I was in anticipation of Quiet Nights.

I had visions of a glorious grand convergence LP … Diana’s cool jazz musical interpretations and vocal style, an expanded version of the same great musicians that delivered Live In Paris, and a setlist blend of standards gold and classic Jobim/bossa nova numbers … I could not wait.

The songs were indeed superb selections and the music was fabulous (though I thought the mastering/mixing was not quite up to Live in Paris) but where Quiet Nights failed for me was with (gulp) … Diana’s vocals.

After years of enjoying her vocal jazz stylings, I was dumbstruck with Diana’s over oxygenated, hyper breathy vocals throughout Quiet Nights. Maybe she was going for an Astrud Gilberto vocal motif — getting into character as a bossa nova singer for the  LP — I don’t know, but whatever the reason I was disappointed with the outcome and considered Quiet Nights Diana Krall’s only less-than-stellar album outing in a near 20 year career.

Until Glad Rag Doll that is…

Though Diana’s done concept albums quite successfully in the past (a wonderful Nat King Cole Trio tribute LP All for You for instance), as I mentioned above, LPs dedicated to a singular theme carry significant risk.

It’s one thing to slide 3 or 4 tracks of high-concept material — even something bordering on esoterica — into an otherwise approachable album.

Listeners can taste the exotic tracks chased by material that they can relate to … if they like the new stuff, great! If the listener doesn’t get a charge out of the new material, there’s still eight or ten tracks they can latch on to.

Glad Rag Doll‘s “all in” deep dive into ragtime sub-genre fare was a risk that did not pay off.

It’s similar to the “I must do an original music LP” trap artist’s often fall into. They grow tired of covering other writers material and release an LP of all original music.

It may be great stuff and expand their audience but they run the risk of jarring their listenership — breaking a trust of sorts that fans have built up over years of listening. Once that separation occurs, it can be tough to get it back.

Diana’s Star Turtle

Back in ’96, after several hugely successful jazz/standards LP releases Harry Connick Jr. — apparently weary from getting knocked for “covering Sinatra songs” — pushed out a concept LP of experimental, original material … the infamous Star Turtle album.

Yikes … the Turtle LP was so unexpected and disjoint from HCjr’s previous body of work it jarred the fillings out of my teeth. I think Rag Doll is DK’s Star Turtle. I know she’ll make it back … I just hope it doesn’t take too long.

A non-review review…

I’m not going to discuss the music from GRD … I can’t meaningfully relate to it. I toyed with not doing a review piece for Glad Rag Doll at all … technically (if there is such a thing) GRD is a pure-play ragtime jazz LP … no more standards/American Songbook material than say Peter Cincotti’s new original music pop album — Metropolis (good stuff, but I have no plan to review it).

I changed my mind because I felt compelled to make two points — one positive and one not so positive. I think I may have expressed the not so positive side at this point, but to sum it up …  I’m happy for Diana that — at this stage of her career — she can exercise her apparent need to explore new music frontiers and has enough sway with Verve to produce an album sporting her exploration… but I still, just don’t get this album.

The silver lining…

The good news (yeah!) … Diana’s back from the ultra-breathy vocal style she exhibited on Quiet Nights. On GRD Ms. Krall reverted to her natural, strong interpretive jazz vocal style, which bodes well for the future … should she bring her prodigious jazz interpretive talent back to the Great American Songbook (yes Diana, please!).

I’m still the same huge Diana Krall fan that I’ve been for nearly 20 years, and I hope you can separate the negative sentiment I’ve expressed for GRD from the utmost respect and outright fan worship I have for DK’s talent and amazing body of work.

I’m sideways to be sure on Glad Rag Doll but I remain a Diana Krall zealot and fan of the first order!

 — UPDATE (10/05/12) —

I woke up in the night feeling bad for not including the track list in my GRD review. It’s really not fair to drop the hammer on the LP without displaying the songs involved. Still no ratings — I really don’t know where to begin with this material — but please find the track list below.

Also, nowadays, with iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and the like, I always assume folks will go listen for themselves before making a buying decision. I particularly encourage that with Glad Rag Doll as the LP is a significant diversion from Diana’s typical and very deep jazz/standards body of work.

Clearly GRD is not my cup-o-tea, but if you’re a collector level (“gotta have everything she puts out”) Diana Krall fan, or a ragtime jazz genre deep diver, this album is probably right in your wheelhouse … go for it!

‘K … feel better now (whew)

Glad Rag Doll – Diana Krall

1. We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye 3:07
2. There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt Of My Tears 4:29
3. Just Like A Butterfly That’s Caught In The Rain 3:43
4. You Know – I Know Ev’rything’s Made For Love 3:47
5. Glad Rag Doll 4:34
6. I’m A Little Mixed Up 4:36
7. Prairie Lullaby 4:22
8. Here Lies Love 5:09
9. I Used To Love You But It’s All Over Now 2:50
10. Let It Rain 5:44
11. Lonely Avenue 6:57
12. Wide River To Cross 3:51
13. When The Curtain Comes Down 4:51
14. As Long As I Love 2:29
15. Glad Rag Doll (Alternate Version) 2:54
16. Garden In The Rain 2:55
17. There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth The Salt Of My Tears (Alternate Version) 2:06

 

 

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  • It’s only fair to ask, is it this genre that leaves you cold, or the way Diana handles this material? Is there another performer you can recommend who has addressed some of these songs before?

    • vs_guy

      I think it’s an expectation issue. I’m not familiar with with the ragtime sub-genre and Diana’s discography has been a steady diet of LPs featuring the the Great American Songbook for going on 20 years … I was unprepared for a complete album dedicated to ragtime jazz.

      It would have been less jarring (for me) had she slipped 3 or 4 tracks of this music into an otherwise “normal” Krall LP. Then I could taste test the new stuff while still feasting on Diana’s wonderful jazz interpreted standards fare … sort of how many artists sprinkle a few original numbers in amongst the standards songs on an album.

      To answer your questions more directly (sorry, I can be a verbose buckaroo) … I’m unfamiliar with the ragtime sub-genre to any significant extent; it doesn’t strike a chord for me personally so I guess you could say ragtime leaves me a bit cold.

      Diana, as far as I can tell, does a great job with the material … but then again, I have no idea!