It’s possible to entertain two mildly conflicting views of “Glad Rag Doll,” the new album by Diana Krall.
First, you could understand it as a nifty bit of pop archaeology: a bouquet of songs culled mostly from the ‘20s and ‘30s. But you could also recognize it as a shrewd recalibration for one of the more stable properties in the music industry, complete with a name-brand producer, his cabinet of wonders and his trusted musical crew.
The producer is T Bone Burnett, whom you may know from any number of other albums filed under the inexact category of Americana – notably “Raising Sand,” by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, which won a Grammy in 2009 for Album of Year.
As a throwback jazz singer and a swinging pianist, Krall favors music of crispness and low-gloss polish. Working with Burnett meant more reverberant guitars and stomping rhythm, and an aesthetic as handsomely distressed as the wares in a Restoration Hardware catalog.
Krall is self-conscious enough to call this enterprise into question herself, or so it seems. “All the world can see behind your mask,” she sings in the title track. Arranged as a delicate duet with guitarist Marc Ribot, it’s the moral heart of this album, an indictment of womanly artifice that Krall has said she associates with photographs of the Ziegfeld Girls. (She poses as one on the album cover.)
And the closing track, the Ted Lewis number “When the Curtain Comes Down,” offers a more strident bolt of meta-awareness, with Krall’s husband, Elvis Costello, in vaudevillian-barker mode. (“We are actors, and here’s our game!” You don’t say.)
There are other awkward reminders of the translation involved here, beginning with the trad-jazz staple “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears.” It opens with a lean piano-and-vocal prelude, but then the band locks in, bringing a lurching two-step beat and a lot of humid atmosphere; it’s as if Krall were participating in her own remix project.
But it has never been a bad idea to engage Krall’s friskier side, and it’s satisfying to hear the swagger in her phrasing on “I’m a Little Mixed Up.” On “Prairie Lullaby,” a song forever associated with Jimmie Rodgers, she plays the cowboy angle straight, while subtly emphasizing the drowsiness in her delivery.
She sounds even better on another song with country pedigree: “Wide River to Cross.” However old-fashioned its style, the song is a contemporary outlier on an album crowded with relics, and its beautiful realization invites the question of what other sort of album Krall and Burnett might have made without any point to prove.