LIANE HANSEN, host:
In the early 1970s, Rita Coolidge was winning fans as a back-up singer for Delaney & Bonnie, Steven Stills, Leon Russell and Joe Cocker. She also won awards for her country duets with then-husband Kris Kristofferson. Coolidge's talent and success as a versatile vocalist led to a contract with Herb Alpert at A&M Records. In 1977, her first solo album "Anytime, Anywhere" sold millions of copies, and three singles made the top charts. One of them was this one.
(Soundbite of "We're All Alone")
Ms. RITA COOLIDGE (Singer): (Singing) Outside the rain begins, and it may never end. So cry no more on the shore, a dream will take us out to sea forever more, forever more.
HANSEN: Rita Coolidge has just released a new record "And So Is Love." It's her debut on the Concord label. And on it, some 30 years later, she sings the same song.
(Soundbite of "We're All Alone")
Ms. COOLIDGE: (Singing) Close your eyes and dream, and you can be with me. 'Neath the waves through the caves of hours, long forgotten now. We're all alone, we're all alone. Close the window, calm the light, and it will be all right. No need to bother now. Let it out, let it all begin. Learn how to pretend.
HANSEN: Rita Coolidge joins us from NPR West.
Welcome to the program.
Ms. COOLIDGE: Thank you so much, Liane.
HANSEN: Why did you want to revisit "We're All Alone?"
Ms. COOLIDGE: It was kind of suggested by a Japanese record company who had had a big part of this album. And I think that they wanted me to re-record one of my hits to possibly serve as a bridge for people who had been longtime fans to realize, you know, that "We're All Alone," it's Rita Coolidge, now she's singing jazz. For me, it was breathing new life into a tune that I've sung for years and years. And I've loved it. I love the whole process.
HANSEN: Did your delivery change? Did you approach this as you would a standard?
Ms. COOLIDGE: Well, I think that the arrangement, we tried to have the arrangements be suitable and compatible with the rest of the record, and it does work for me. The fact that I'm singing this song all these years later with a lot of life experience under my belt...
Ms. COOLIDGE: ...and in my heart I think has made the difference.
HANSEN: In arranging this song, "We're All Alone," is there deliberate space that is left for the other members of the troupe as well as your voice to present it a way that says this is different, this is jazz?
Ms. COOLIDGE: Well, going into this record, it was important for me to realize the space. Space has always been important to me. And it seems in the past, we would record with the rhythm section and then every empty, little spot would have a string or something or voices or something put in. And when we began recording this record, we agreed that the fact that we were recording with a trio really allowed us some beautiful space that we wanted to hang on to. I really loved it for the songs to breathe and to be able to sing a word and to be able to understand that word and for it to have its moment. And it happens in a lot of the tunes on this CD.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. COOLIDGE: (Singing) I'm gonna love you like no one's loved you come rain or come shine. High as a mountain, deep as a river come rain or come shine. I guess when you met me, it was just one of those things. But don't ever bet me 'cause I'm going to be true if you let me. You're gonna love me like no one's loved me come rain or come shine. Happy together, unhappy together, and wouldn't it be fine? Days may be cloudy or sunny, we're in our we're out of the money. Now I'm with you always, I'm with you rain or shine.
HANSEN: Are there lessons you learn from singing back-up that you are applying as a solo vocalist, and particularly doing jazz?
Ms. COOLIDGE: Well, I believe that I was a back-up singer when I was born because I'm told that I sang before I spoke words or before I walked, I could sing melodies as a seven-month-old baby, which I find hard to believe. And you know how family stories can be enhanced. But it's a good story. But I think--I sang background all my life. I sang in church, I sang with my sisters. And always, harmony was a part of my life, singing harmony. So that was a natural avenue for me. Probably stepping out as a solo artist was the hardest thing to do, just the nerves and the fear, you know, of `I'm fine back there, but somebody wants me up front, so OK.' And then, you know, secretly, of course, I did want to be Peggy Lee. I wanted to do everything that she had done and experiment with many styles of music and have fun doing it. That's why I'm here. So, you know, every day in every song I sing, I learn something. It's all just such a beautiful lesson.
(Soundbite of "Cry Me A River")
Ms. COOLIDGE: (Singing) Now you say you're lonely. You cried the whole night through. Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river. I cried a river over you. Now you say you're sorry for being so untrue. Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river. I cried a river over you.
HANSEN: In a song like "Cry Me A River," for example, you've got pitch and you've got tempo, and you have to sell lines like `told me you were through with me.'
Ms. COOLIDGE: "Cry Me A River" just comes from my gut. I wanted to sing that song for my whole life. And I have a girlfriend who says, `When you say "cry me a river,"' she said, `it's like an accusation.' That's probably my favorite cut. That and "Don't Smoke in Bed" are two of my favorite cuts. Well, they all are when it gets down to it.
HANSEN: Sure. Herb Albert plays trumpet for you...
Ms. COOLIDGE: Yeah.
HANSEN: ...on one of these selections. And he was a mentor of yours at A&M Records.
Ms. COOLIDGE: Yes. Herb and I always had a connection. I've just always loved him and Lonnie. And when we did this bassonova tune, I mean, it was just clear that Herb needed to be on it because it was really full circle.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. COOLIDGE: Always feeling you near me in every song or morning breeze composes, in all the tender wonder of the roses. Each time a setting sun swells on the sea...
HANSEN: This fall, you're touring in a new show, "Billie & Me." It's about Billie Holiday. You're playing Carnegie Hall, you're playing the Kennedy Center here in Washington. How are you preparing for that?
Ms. COOLIDGE: I'm waiting for the script. You know, I'm really just--I know my stamina, I know, you know, my limits vocally, I know what I can do as far as a narrator because I'm narrating the show as well. I just trust that the people that have chosen me for this role, you know, are not going to give me something that I can't do. I'm sure that I can. I think that what is put before me is what I'm going to conquer. And I think that it's just lovely at this time in my life that God just keeps putting these projects in front of me that are just so challenging and yet just so within my reach.
HANSEN: Rita Coolidge. Her new recording of jazz standards "And So Is Love" is on the Concord label. Look for her this fall in the concert program "Billie & Me." She joined us from NPR West.
Thanks a lot for your time and good luck.
Ms. COOLIDGE: Thank you so much, Liane. It's been a real delight.
(Soundbite of song)
HANSEN: You can hear full versions of "Cry Me A River" and other songs from "And So Is Love" at our Web site npr.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.