Diana Krall’s acknowledgement that she drew strongly from Julie London for this collection of 10 ballads and bossa novas is fair but limiting. Yes, in achieving her stated goal to not oversing, she does echo the cashmere minimalism that defined London’s hushed appeal. And, in also aiming, as Krall says, to deliver a “very womanly” album that suggests “you’re lying next to your lover in bed whispering in their ear,” she mirrors London’s knack for sounding as if she was recording in black lace from a candlelit boudoir.
But Krall is a far more perceptive and discriminating artist. With the incurably somnolent London, everything from “The End of a Love Affair” to “Hello, Dolly!” was sung with the same shrugged indolence. Krall understands not only how to get to the heart of a lyric but also how to ensure that her interpretation never betrays her emotional sincerity. It is evident in the raw hunger, superbly underscored by a trickle of disquietude, of “You’re My Thrill.” It is there in “The Boy From Ipanema,” where sweet reverie is tempered by the realization that desire will surely be unrequited.
The finest example is her “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.” It is a song that allows, perhaps even begs, for histrionics. When Linda Ronstadt did it, with no less a pro than Nelson Riddle to guide her, it was a minefield of soaring peaks and plunging valleys. Even Sinatra, with the superior treatment included on 1958’s Only the Lonely (also shaped by Riddle), couldn’t resist the occasional indulgence of excessive emoting. But Krall discerns that this bruised examination of a spurned lover wallowing in maudlin self-pity must entirely remain in the gray, shadowy trenches of near-depression to be genuinely effective. It is such astuteness, far more than any twilit seductiveness, that makes Quiet Nights an outstanding experience.