BY JANE STEVENSON, TORONTO SUN
FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, MARCH 06, 2015 08:00 AM EST | UPDATED: SATURDAY, MARCH 07, 2015 08:00 AM EST
MONTREAL — Diana Krall is no Wallflower.
Yes, the Nanaimo, B.C.-born jazz singer’s 12th album is called that, after the Bob Dylan song — one of the dozen pop-rock tracks from the ’60s to ’80s she reinterprets on her latest LP.
But like the feisty Molly Shannon SNL character Sally O’Malley, Krall is no shrinking violet.
“I’m 50 and I kick and I stretch!” says the funny, friendly performer echoing the O’Malley catchphrase always delivered by Shannon in pulled-up red velour pants with a high kick.
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Turns out Krall is a half-century old and proud of it.
“I still feel like 16 but my back feels like 50,” she jokes. “But, no, I feel good. I think I’m in really good shape. And I don’t agree with (the saying), ‘Well, it’s just a number.’ It’s a significant number, as my Doan’s little pills tell me,” Kralls says with a laugh. Doan’s is an over-the-counter medication used to treat chronic back pain.
“I don’t know. I’ve got two eight-year-old kids (twin boys Dexter and Frank) and a great husband (British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello) and tremendous support. I’m more comfortable with my feelings. I’m not as hard on myself. I’m more acknowledging of what I’ve accomplished.”
Krall’s half-century mark comes up because of the December death of her beloved father and a recent bout with pneumonia, which caused both the Wallflower release and tour to be postponed from last October to this winter (she doesn’t tour Canada extensively until May).
“I’m still dealing with (the pneumonia),” she said. “I have what’s called reactive airways — it’s just really difficult to get over. I’m doing better. I do think getting more active — swimming, singing — helps.
“The most difficult thing about it was all the things that happened between August and December, not only to me, but to my family because my father passed away. It’s been a very painful time.”
Krall said it was torture when she couldn’t turn to singing and playing as an outlet to express herself.
“To have not been able to do that physically for six months hasn’t helped because where do you put it? Where does it go? It goes into walking around with a Phillips screwdriver and fixing cupboard doors and stuff like that. I’m sure I drive people crazy.”
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For now, she’s still working through her dad’s passing.
“I don’t believe there’s closure,” says Krall, whose eyes well up. “I do believe that there is a sense of feeling OK. I’m not through that yet. I feel Shiva (the Jewish mourning period) is very important and I need to sort of experience that time.”
The concept for Wallflower followed a much happier time playing at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit — “It is insanely artistic and beautiful and loving!” she says — and Krall just wanted to sing in the studio.
“I have this picture of me and Neil. He’s got his arms wrapped around me and he’s laughing. He feels like my uncle or something,” she says.
“He was just so kind to me ... It’s the feeling of being a little kid and going, ‘Oh. My. God.’ And I came back from that experience and I had a meeting with (Wallflower’s producer) David (Foster) and we sat down ... and we started to talk. We talked and talked and talked for three hours and decided we wouldn’t do a jazz record. I wanted to do something different.”
It helped that both Krall and 16-time Grammy winner Foster were from the same area of Vancouver Island and both play piano, which Foster does on most of Wallflower.
“I don’t think people realize what a piano player David Foster is and how he played with Dave Brubeck. We’re both from Victoria, Nanaimo, and we just started to work. I won’t say there weren’t a few doors slammed. As Sarah McLachlan has said, ‘He has no edit button!’ But I kind of learned to (ignore that) ... I don’t move away from the piano very often and I was able to come in and just sing.”
Krall says she already knew the songs on Wallflower — everything from The Eagles’ Desperado to Elton John’s Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word — from her time as a fledgling 19-year-old piano player doing the circuit.
“I played a lot of gin joints and a lot of bars,” she says. “I drove in my crap Toyota Tercel to my piano gigs, smoking cigarettes in a Laura Ashley dress, listening to Cuts Like a Knife, pulling up to the country club and (saying) to the valet: ‘Piano player.’ And then I had to sneak out with the cheese tray and put it in my trunk so I had something to eat that night.”
Krall points to Dylan’s recent Sinatra album, Shadows in the Night, as THE way to do an album of covers, even though she hates that word.
“He sounds like he’s lived them,” she said. “And it shows other people that reimagining or interpreting other people’s music isn’t just a cover exercise. It’s something very deep ... I’m not an actor but I sing songs that I can find some experience in ... You just have to find your story in it.”
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DIANA KRALL ON MOTHERHOOD
Diana Krall didn’t say if eight-year-old twin sons Dexter and Frank take musically after her and husband Elvis Costello just yet but apparently they do have a major funny bone courtesy of a certain Canadian funnyman.
“My kids are REALLY into Jim Carrey,” she says. “Every time we pull up to a parking space, they go, ‘Like a glove!’ It’s not great when they are talking out of their butts.”
But their taste also ranges to more sophisticated fare.
“We have a tradition,” says Krall. “Sunday night is Chaplin night. So we watch Charlie Chaplin every Sunday that we can. We all pile in bed and then they read the subtitles so when I go to school and the teacher says, ‘Did Dexter do his reading assignment? Did Frank do his reading assignment?’ I said, ‘Yes, they read subtitles! They read subtitles in a Charlie Chaplin film for an hour.’ And the teacher looks at me like (huh?). It’s reading!”
NOTABLE COVERS BY DIANA KRALL
Diana Krall’s Wallflower features the jazz pop singer-pianist covering pop-rock songs from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, but she has been a major interpreter of other people’s songs her entire career.
Here are five more notable modern tunes she’s covered over the years:
- Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You was covered on Krall’s 2002 album Live in Paris.
- Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are appeared on the Live in Paris LP as a bonus track.
- Husband Elvis Costello’s Almost Blue was covered on Krall’s 20004 disc, The Girl in the Other Room.
- Tom Waits’ The Heart of Saturday Night was covered on Krall’s 2007 collection, The Very Best of Diana Krall.
- Bob Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate was covered by Krall on the 2012 charity fundraising album Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.