Jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall’s most recent studio album is the early-2015 release “Wallflower,” an exploration of, mostly, soft-rock hits from the 1970s — indeed, the golden age of soft rock.
As NPR Music noted in its “First Listen” review of the album back in February, the songs on “Wallflower” are “numbingly familiar to anyone in her age range.” Krall, who performs at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans on Thursday, is 50, and she grew up with gentle light rock for adults like the Eagles’ “Desperado,” Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” and Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels),” all of which she interprets in her husky, understated alto on “Wallflower.”
You don’t have to be her age to know those songs well, either. They’re ubiquitous on oldies radio — (though not as much so on classic-rock radio, which tends to choose the era’s brasher, more bombastic output for its playlists).
The bulk of what Krall plucked from her musical memory bank for “Wallflower” is more nuanced stuff: post-sexual revolution tunes about grown-up feelings like heartache and emotional malaise — touching, bittersweet, and above all, complicated.
Lyrical themes of love shot through with loneliness, or vice versa, offer a complexity that gives the five-time Grammy-winning jazz artist something solid to chew on.
That’s not to say that “Wallflower” remakes its material into jazz. In fact, some coverage of the album has put modifiers like “defiant,” “unapologetic” and “unabashed” in front of the word “pop” when describing it.
Must pop be defended? Apparently, to some extent, yes, at least according to Krall in several interviews promoting “Wallflower” over the past year.
“I didn’t start out at 19 just playing jazz songs for six hours every night,” she told the Ottawa Citizen in February. “I was playing Elton John, and I played ‘Desperado.’ ”
Her producer for “Wallflower” was the 16-time Grammy winner David Foster, who has crafted smooth pop sounds for the likes of Michael Buble, Celine Dion, Josh Groban and Toni Braxton.
“I was very clear with him,” she told the Citizen, “that if we were going to make a record it was going to be a pop record and not a jazz record.”
In any case, Krall’s interpretations on “Wallflower” are largely faithful to the original recordings.
It’s the emotional arena where she flexes her instrument most, a practice that has served her well before on covers of songs written by astute pop and folk-pop craftspeople like Tom Waits, Chris Smither, Joni Mitchell and her husband, Elvis Costello.
“I’m not trying to make the Eagles into Irving Berlin,” she told the Boston Globe in an interview at the time of the album’s release.
“I find that musically it’s very challenging, and vocally it’s interesting to me. It’s not about improvisation, it’s about singing songs completely straight so that the feeling of the song comes across — and not make them into jazz songs and not distract from the original story.”