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Her Aim Is True

Diana Krall
The Girl in the Other Room (Verve)

Rue becomes Diana Krall. So, apparently, does marriage. On her eighth, best and least-jazz-oriented recording, the Canadian singer animates tunes by Mose Allison, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell and Chris Smither with winning inventiveness, unveils herself as coproducer with longtime mentor Tommy LiPuma, and debuts her recent alliance with Elvis Costello, the eclectic punker-turned-pop-icon-turned-crooner. Krall wrote the music, new husband Costello the lyrics, for most of the tunes on this exquisitely produced and almost-as-exquisitely-paced album. Costello does not sing here, but his words are as pointed—and poignant—as ever.

The best tracks are the enigmatic title tune, the jewel-like “Abandoned Masquerade” and a smoky, bluesy take on Waits’ “Temptation,” all suggesting Krall is entering a new, maturer phase. No longer does she have to rely on standards to showcase her jazz personality, and she’s willing to put her voice, sultrier and wearier than ever, more up front. On “Black Crow,” her homage to touchstone Mitchell, Krall sounds acerbic and energized; on the original “Narrow Daylight,” a patient meditation on celebrity and privacy, she sounds confident enough to be understated. And on “Love Me Like a Man,” a Smither tune long associated with Bonnie Raitt, she pumps the piano and sings close to bawdy. Plunking “Love Me” midway through seems jarring at first, but it sets off the quieter tunes bracketing it—and indicates Krall can rock. So does her rendition of Allison’s funny, tangy “Stop This World.”

Krall lost her mother in late 2002; last year, the great bassist Ray Brown, who nurtured her early career, died. The Girl in the Other Room isn’t downbeat, but it’s seasoned, and for perhaps the first time, Krall sounds wise. Her decision to collaborate with Costello and to highlight tunes largely associated with pop and folk was a good one, making her far more than a Norah Jones for grown-ups or a jazz chanteuse wannabe. Will the jazzers buy this? Their loss if they don’t.

—Carlo Wolff

Mark Lanegan Band
Here Comes That Weird Chill (Methamphetamine Blues, Extras and Oddities) (Beggars Banquet)

If this single-gone-eight-song-EP is to be trusted, Mark Lanegan took his fleeting presence in the hard-rocking Queens of the Stone Age to heart. Here Comes That Weird Chill finds Lanegan’s music still gloomy, but its edges seem sharper, and it’s harder than much of his solo work, which is usually more stark and windswept.

The release originally was intended to just be a teaser single in anticipation of Lanegan’s forthcoming late-spring release Bubblegum, but turned into an eight-song prequel. Most of the songs find him matching sludgy, low-end factory noise with sweet harmonies and piano, and even harken back to his days fronting Screaming Trees.

The one track also slated for the album, “Methamphetamine Blues,” is classic Lanegan, just with more synthesized bells and whistles. His grisly vocals are matched with sinister clanging and steam-engine rhythmic punctuation. The song would be ironclad if it weren’t for the cheesy insertions of a girl’s voice saying things like “Hit it” and “I’ll do it, Daddy.” The rest of the EP, however, finds Lanegan tromping through the more familiar thematic territory of lamenting wicked behavior and yearning for a fresh start, all accented by his voice’s deep, resonant timbre.

Lanegan’s voice has always been able to make my backbone shiver, and this EP is no exception. “Wish You Well” makes him sound like Leonard Cohen (and provides the EP’s title) while “Lexington Slow Down” is an unadorned piano gospel that has Lanegan channeling Nick Cave.

With his rendition of “Clear Spot,” Lanegan delivers an appropriately weird Captain Beefheart cover coated with taut guitar lines and vocal distortion, highlighting a similarity between Lanegan’s and Don Van Vliet’s voices that I never noticed before.

Guests in Lanegan’s recording lineup include Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli, Dean Ween, as well as his former QOTSA mates Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, with whom Lanegan cowrote “Skeletal History.” And all told, it’s a sweet aperitif for what Lanegan plans to serve us later this spring.

—Ashley Hahn

Cult Classic (Ferret)

The last public hanging in Albany was in 1827, but if Scarlet ever come here, what say we bring it back one more time for old times’ sake? OK, that’s a bit harsh. But this is exactly the kind of music that makes me want to hang myself, music that endeavors to be everything that it can never be. It has nothing to do with musicianship—obviously the men are immensely talented, adroitly nailing preposterous time signatures beneath cracked-out jazz chords and steamy, extra-chunky riffs. But they sound like Voivod meeting Shai Hulud at some bizarre ProTools troubleshoot, and the soundtrack is skipping in the player to boot.

Despite its brutality, its sheer temple-bursting power, the music is barren. You know what I mean. It is forgotten as soon as the stop button is hit, and the most serious challenge the collection presents to the listener is how to endure all 16 tracks in one sitting, especially given that the entire CD is sung by vocalist Jon Spencer (no, not of Blues Explosion fame) in one big incessant, prefabricated scream. It’s so contrived my face hurts. No dynamics, no lilt, no personality, no gates of hell opening up to swallow me, no nothing. Not even the sometimes-intriguing lyrics can save it. Songs like “Sinning By Your Side” and “Get Your Gun” do nothing to inspire rage, defiance, happiness, sadness, gladness or badness. Rather, one listens with a sort of annoyed indifference, which is the most dangerous place to be.

You can’t really even give them what I call the “Captain Beefheart catastrophic experimental booby prize,” because it’s been done before, by far greater men. There are literally thousands of metal bands who employ such avant-garde interludes in their craft, such wicked, teetering and sometimes blathering lucky strikes, but the ones who do it best ensure that the music has a heartbeat. Even the most awkward prizefighters need it. The heart of a lion. You’ll be waiting a long time if you look for it here. Anthrax’s Scott Ian was right—this is the first generation where the metal is wimpier than the one before it. I feel sort of bad because the band’s handlers sent this one to me personally to review. But not that bad.

—Bill Ketzer

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