Diana Krall takes center stage Friday at Meadow Brook
Diana Krall isn’t sure where she is.
“I have to look at my itinerary,” the singer said over the phone, with a husky laugh. “We drove from Hyannis and I think we’re in Binghamton, New York, now.” The British Columbia-born Krall speaks in a torrent of words, quite a change from her languid singing style.
Krall, 50, was playing that night at the Anderson Center in Binghamton, so her guess is probably a winner.
This summer she is in the midst of an intensive “Wallflower World Tour,” driving across North America in support of her 12th studio album, “The Wallflower.” Her tour bus has no doubt passed that of her husband, Elvis Costello, on some blue highway as he travels the country opening for Steely Dan. The couple married in 2003 and have twin sons, now 8 1/2 years old.
“The Wallflower” is a collection of ’60s and ’70s-era pop songs, done very deliberately in a pop (not jazz) style, swathed in a lush David Foster production.
She takes on California rock classics “Desperado” and “California Dreamin,’” as well as Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Alone Again (Naturally),” sung with her countryman Michael Buble, and Elton John’s “Sorry is the Hardest Word.” The title song is a semi-obscure Bob Dylan song from one of his “Bootleg Series” albums.
It’s quite a change of pace from Krall’s last album, “Glad Rag Doll,” a collection of worn, funky ragtime-era tunes produced by T-Bone Burnett.
Krall and Foster, who is also the chairman of Verve, her record company, had brainstormed the pop album in late 2013.
“I had just done the Bridge School benefit with Neil Young, I remember it clearly because that was an extraordinary weekend, listening to Tom Waits and Crosby Stills & Nash play,” said Krall. “We didn’t want to do a jazz record, (and) we didn’t want to do a jazz record of pop songs. We wanted to do pop songs that people knew, that I knew, that I felt really familiar with.”
It started with “Desperado,” the Eagles song. But the Eagles were not Krall’s point of reference. “For me, it was more about Linda Ronstadt. I admire her so much, because she worked with Nelson Riddle, did American pop songs as well, early American popular songs. I’m a great admirer of hers.
Because Ronstadt’s Parkinson’s disease meant she had to stop performing, her profile isn’t as high as it might be.
“I’ve been talking about this a lot,” Krall said. “It’s great to talk about her, because people associate that song with the Eagles, but I associate it with her. I remember when I was growing up, getting those records she did with Nelson Riddle, like ‘What’s New.’ She was one of the first pop singers who went into standards, before it became the thing.”
“Superstar” by the Carpenters would seem to be the perfect song for Krall, with her seasoned alto, but it wasn’t Karen Carpenter’s smoky, emotional voice she was channeling when she sang it.
“I like Karen Carpenter a lot, but on that song I was thinking more Shirley Bassey,” Krall said of the sexy Brit who sang “Goldfinger,” from the James Bond film of the same name. “It’s weird, where your creative mind goes. I wanted to do more like a Bond kind of thing.”
Every one of the songs on “Wallflower” are on the sad, lovelorn side, made even more so by Krall’s langorous alto.
“Well, what else is new?” Krall said cheerfully. “Is that any different from what I’ve done before? That’s the way it is sometimes. If you look at all of Sinatra’s records, the concept records especially, they weren’t all ring-a-ding-ding. That’s what we do.”
Krall’s piano playing, such a big part of her signature sound, takes a back seat on “Wallflower” to Foster’s piano accompaniment. “I play some piano solos,” she insists. “I’m not playing all the piano, because David put them in really specific keys for me, and I wanted that opportunity to have an accompanist so I could sing in keys that are normally not ones I would choose — because they were difficult.”
Of course, performing the songs on the road is a different story — she is playing those parts now. “It’s becoming a little difficult on the road, because now I’m the piano player having to play them. But (Foster) is a great piano player, playing in that style. He said ‘I will accompany you for now and then you play it later.’ I said, ‘Why? You sound so great, give me a chance to sit out for a second.’ ”
Of course, whatever album Krall is touring behind, ultimately, like the best jazz artists, when she gets up onstage she’s working for that particular audience, on that night.
“To be honest with you, right now I’m doing the ‘Wallflower’ tour, but I just look at my audience and I’m just playing whatever I want. Some nights I’ll play more songs from ‘Wallflower,’ some nights I’ll play just a few. We have so little time! Last night we played in Hyannis, in a club, so I played a lot of jazz, then we went into Bob Dylan, then we went into Irving Berlin, then we ended up closing with ‘Ophelia.’
“I just think you have to have the personal strength, or trust, I don’t know what the word is, that people will come out and they want to hear you and your band and what you do. Also the spontaneity of it is great, because that’s what we do, right?
She’s just warming up. “An album is different than a performance,” Krall continued. “I don’t feel like I’ve changed into this person and now I do this album. You should be able to get up on a stage and do what Frank or Tony Bennett did, and just call tunes and play what you want.”
It helps to have a band that can follow her, no matter what tune she calls.
“They can. That’s a really important dimension, that whatever I call, they just go there. Incredible. I work with great people and I have a wonderful band that I have known for a long time, they’re all amazing artists in their own right.”
On her current tour, the band is Anthony Wilson on guitar, Stuart Duncan on fiddle/guitars, Patrick Warren on keyboards, Dennis Crouch from Nashville’s Time Jumpers on bass and Detroit jazz drummer Karriem Riggins.
Krall has used her share of Detroit musicians, having once toured with Detroit bass legend Robert Hurst — “One of the greatest bass players I’ve worked with, in my life,” she said.
It is Krall’s joy while on the road to dive into the rabbithole that is YouTube to watch videos of her favorite musicians, and she gleefully swaps links back and forth with her band. “I’m really learning a lot from my band, because they’re coming from lots of different places. It’s great to be surrounded with people like that, now that we’re all searching and listening and checking things out.”
Once Krall gets into a video, she will watch it endlessly. There’s Fats Waller, an eternal favorite, as well as Annette Hanshaw, the roaring ’20s jazz singer largely forgotten until Krall brought her song “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye” back to life on “Glad Rag Doll.”
“I’ve also been listening to a lot of Ernestine Anderson, listening to Joe Williams singing ‘Going to Chicago’ with Count Basie from Newport, then a 1981 performance. It’s just mind blowing that you can see performances like that by just clicking, touching the screen.
Proving she’s no jazz snob, for the past few days she has been on a Chuck Berry kick.
“Playing along with Chuck Berry records, just for fun,” she said, laughing. “There’s YouTubes where he’s singing ‘C’est La Vie’ (‘You Never Can Tell’), but I can’t figure out the band he’s with. He’s got this wild shirt on and it’s just the way he’s singing, it is so unbelievable and charismatic. It’s great. I’ve watched that about 10 times.
“With the band, we just all send each other YouTubes to check out, then one leads to another and all of a sudden you’re listening to Ernestine Anderson from 1967 and howling along with this crazy organ player you don’t know.”
■Annette Hanshaw, jazz belle of the 1920s and ’30s in a rare film appearance singing “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye.” youtube.com/watch?v=3I12Wwc9qo4
■Annette Hanshaw, singing “Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home” youtube.com/watch?v=XRgEn7b0YRA
■Chuck Berry, wearing the wild shirt, singing “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie)” youtube.com/watch?v=d1oyvAMtFsk
■Ernestine Anderson with her very animated organ player, doing “Moanin’” (1967) youtube.com/watch?v=LPGwUYOTe0Y
Diana Krall: Wallflower World Tour
8 p.m. Friday
Meadow Brook Music Festival
3554 Walton, Rochester
Tickets $35-$75 pavilion, $15 lawn
Ticketmaster.com or Livenation.com