Diana Krall has been wowing mainstream audiences for the past decade with her smooth, spare sound. If you like your jazz tidy, shiny and highly competent, you probably already have her CDs cozied up to that well-worn copy of Come Away With Me. But if you’re among the music snobs who, when she married Elvis Costello, wondered, “What does he see in her?” The Girl in the Other Room will attempt to answer your question.
Half the disc’s songs were co-written with her new hubby, and they’re among the best and worst of Girl. On the title tune, Anthony Wilson’s simple Spanish-style acoustic guitar backs a vocal as soft and yummy as butter. “Narrow Daylight,” an anthemic, uplifting Krall tune dyed blue by pensive guitar, piano and voice, is the album’s highlight. She seems to enjoy channeling Joni Mitchell on “I’m Coming Through” (and it’s far superior to her leaden cover of Joni’s “Black Crow” three tracks earlier). But before most of these collaborative successes, you have to get through the dismal “I’ve Changed My Address,” on which Krall, you guessed it, changes her form of address. Suddenly the warm alto, whose understated quality proves both its charm and its pitfall, dips into growls and oddly enunciated phrases—the line “blonde hair cascades on black leather” is especially grating.
Though most of the album’s covers—Mose Allison’s “Stop This World” and Tom Waits’ “Temptation” among them—sound fairly dull, Krall does a pretty good Costello; “Almost Blue,” if not exactly trumping her husband’s original, is nonetheless distinctive, with a delicately measured pace and an almost impossibly low, brooding vocal. Her beautifully hushed reading of Arthur Herzog and Irene Kitchings’ “I’m Pulling Through” spotlights her piano prowess, which is too often overshadowed by the singer’s vocal style and lyrical interpretations. In “Almost Blue,” Costello seems to have penned an accurate assessment of this disc: “It’s almost touching / It will almost do.”