The music Earl Hooker and Junior Wells made together demonstrates the blues in transition, still upholding its traditions but recasting them in a format that reflected the musical taste of contemporary black society. Shortly after these records were produced, the Blues Boom shifted the music’s focus on to young white audiences. The tracks featured here represent some of the last instances of Chicago blues being produced for the artists’ own community.
Diana Krall is an attractive lady with a good voice who plays decent piano, but this somewhat ridiculously packaged Verve CD seems like an obvious attempt to turn her into a pop icon and sex symbol to boot. The bland arrangements by Claus Ogerman (who conducts the London Symphony Orchestra on each track) border on easy listening, while Krall and her various supporting musicians – including John Pisano, Russell Malone, Christian McBride, and Peter Erskine (among others) – clearly seem stifled by their respective roles. There are plenty of strong compositions here, including standards like "I Remember You," "The Night We Called It a Day," and "I Get Along Without You Very Well," but the unimaginative and often syrupy charts take their toll on the performances.
Pianist/vocalist Diana Krall pays tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio on her Impulse! set. In general, the medium and up-tempo tunes work best, particularly such hot ditties as "I'm an Errand Girl for Rhythm," "Frim Fram Sauce," and "Hit That Jive Jack." Krall does not attempt to directly copy Cole much (either pianistically or vocally), although his influence is obviously felt on some of the songs. The slow ballads are actually as reminiscent of Shirley Horn as Cole, particularly the somber "I'm Through With Love" and "If I Had You." Guitarist Russell Malone gets some solo space on many of the songs and joins in on the group vocal of "Hit That Jive Jack," although it is surprising that he had no other opportunities to interact vocally with Krall; a duet could have been delightful. Bassist Paul Keller is fine in support, pianist Benny Green backs Krall's vocal on "If I Had You," and percussionist Steve Kroon is added on one song. Overall, this is a tasteful effort that succeeds.
For only the second time in her career, jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall deviates from her tried, true m.o. of covering easily identifiable jazz standards. On Glad Rag Doll she teams with producer T-Bone Burnett and his stable of studio aces. Here the two-time Grammy winner covers mostly vaudeville and jazz tunes written in the 1920s and '30s, some relatively obscure. Most of the music here is from her father's collection of 78-rpm records. Krall picked 35 tunes from that music library and gave sheet music to Burnett. He didn't reveal his final selections until they got into the studio. Given their origins, these songs remove the sheen of detached cool that is one of Krall's vocal trademarks. Check the speakeasy feel on opener "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye," with Marc Ribot's airy chords, Jay Bellerose's loose shuffle, and Dennis Crouch's strolling upright bass. Krall's vocal actually seems to express delight in this loose and informal proceeding – though her piano playing is, as usual, tight, top-notch.
Bossa nova is not unfamiliar to Diana Krall, but 2009's Quiet Nights is her first record devoted to the gently swaying rhythm. Teaming up again with arranger Claus Ogerman, who last worked with Krall on 2001's The Look of Love and who also frequently collaborated with bossa nova godfather Antonio Carlos Jobim, Krall winds up with a mellow, lazy album that recalls the relaxed late-night sophistication of Jobim's duet album with Frank Sinatra, which Ogerman also happened to arrange and conduct. It's not just the sound, it's the songs: how '60s standards like Bacharach/David's "Walk on By" sit next to three Jobim tunes, a song by Marcos Valle ("So Nice"), and a few American Songbook standards placed at the beginning, the better to ease listeners into purer bossa nova at the end.
Bear Family, the venerable German label that does reissue boxes of U.S. artists better than any American label – with the possible exception of Mosaic – has taken the cream of Kitty Wells' career and issued one of the most historically important collections in the history of country music. The Queen of Country Music is a four-CD box, with exhaustive biographical and session notes by Charles Wolfe that document, in their entirety, nine years of Ms. Wells career, from its inception through to its turning point and superstardom, the years 1949 to 1958; there are 114 tracks in all. Along with every major hit and B-side from the eras, the set includes classic original versions of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," "Hey Joe!," "I Hear the Jukebox Playing," "Lonely Side of Town," "Making Believe," "Dust on the Bible," "The Place That Kills," "Right or Wrong," "Just When I Needed You," "The Great Speckled Bird," "Jealousy," and many others.