Following the release of her autobiography, Delta Lady, Rita Coolidge returned to the studio for her first collection of new material since 2005’s And So Is Love. The result is a sound that takes her back to the laid back country roots that transformed a background singer to the stars into a musical legend in her own right, and includes self-penned tracks and a few guests.
Ahead of live dates in London, we chatted to her about the new album and, naturally, had to mention Octopussy theme, All Time High.
TRASH: Your new album, Safe In The Arms Of Love, is your first collection of new material for over a decade, and includes songs you wrote yourself too. What made you put pen to paper again?
Rita Coolidge: I think the record itself was the inspiration. If I weren’t so busy I would’ve written more! But I was glad that I was able to fit in the time that I had and get over to Nashville to write with Keb’ (Mo’, Grammy Award winning Blues musician). I just think the general concept of returning to the sound of my earlier records was the inspiration for the way we chose the music and the way they were recorded. And then we had to put in the pieces that were missing, so we had to sit down and write them.
You also put pen to paper in a different way recently, culminating in your autobiography. Did you find when writing your story that songs were coming to life?
No, when I was writing the book I wasn’t thinking about this record at all. Writing the book probably motivated me to go back and listen to some of the earlier stuff, because that’s the time period of the book. I wanted to make something that was rootsy and organic and just the way records used to sound, with a lot of great songs rather than two great songs that people download and then the rest of the album gets lost. I wanted it to be a narrative and tell a story, and have an element of romance and an element of spirituality. And everything I wanted on this record we accomplished because we took the time – the months, the years – to get it right.
We love celebrating the album as a whole at TRASH, rather than a few tracks like you said, and the great thing about vinyl is that it’s being recognised more and more once again. Is the album being released on vinyl?
The album’s going to be released on white vinyl, and there’ll be two records, with an etching of a humming bird on the fourth side. It’s absolutely beautiful – but I don’t have a turntable set up because I just moved to Florida. But it’s beautiful to look at!
Do you still listen to records, rather than streaming?
I do. I absolutely play the whole record. If I’ve got a favourite Keb’ Mo album that I’m listening to it’ll be in the CD player for 3 to 4 days, because I really like to know every song and the sequencing. It’s really important for me, as an artist, to understand how to do it and to appreciate the effort that other artists have put in to make their record something that I want to listen to over and over.
Keb’ Mo’ is of course one of the guests on the album…
I had some really wonderful people. There was a young guitarist playing slide guitar, Joey Landreth who’s from Winnipeg, Canada, and we flew him to LA because I’m absolutely crazy about his work. He’s with a group called The Brothers Landreth and their records are just amazing. Literally, I got to have everybody that I wanted on the record.
The album’s going back to your roots, and country music huge again in the UK, what is it about it that you think keeps it alive?
Country music today is what pop music was in the 70s, and that’s really the appeal. If you have a band like – one of my favourite bands – Little Big Town, they just do some really soulful vocals and great material and beautiful harmonies. If The Eagles were emerging today they’d definitely be a country band. With hip-hop and street music the parameters have been pushed in every direction, and country music is just so broad. From Hank Williams Jr. with hardcore country stuff or Willy Nelson, to more progressive, soul singers in country bands like Lady Antebellum. Chris Stapleton is a soul singer and he’s amazing. He’s more like Ray Charles than any country singer. The categories from record companies and radio have changed, and the music just continues to live.
And with Chris Stapleton on the new Justin Timberlake track, that will hopefully open that up to a brand new audience.
Are there any non-Country acts you’d like to duet with, in the same way Chris has with JT?
Taylor Swift is one of my favourite artists. She came from Country, and she continues to write songs that strike a note with people. I really admire her a lot, so I’d love to. …I don’t know if it’s very compatible. I’d much rather sing with Chris Stapleton!
You’ve got a really special residency taking place in London soon, at Boisdale. What can fans expect from these shows?
The shows are only an hour and I can barely get warmed up in an hour, but we’ll be doing the former hits that people come for. I went to see Luther Vandross when he had a new record and he didn’t play my favourite Luther Vandross songs – just new stuff, and it broke my heart. But we’ll also be doing new material so I’m looking forward to that. We’ve just been on the road and people are loving the new songs and it makes me so happy. For me it’s the best of both worlds, not only for my fans but for the band because as many things as I’ve recorded, there are certain things we have to play, so it doesn’t give much room to stretch out with the catalogue.
Your career began singing back up – for acts including Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton, do you find yourself listening to backing vocals over main vocals?
I think anybody that sings harmony probably does. I love the art of background singing. You know the movie 20 Feet From Stardom talked about that, about all these great singers that started or continued as background singers, like Sheryl Crow and Darlene Love. It’s just a great place to learn about making records. When I brought in the background singers for this record the producer said, “no I don’t want you to sing background on this record, I want different voices” and I was like, “oh…”. I was just so excited about all of those sessions and I’m sure I had way too much to say, they were probably looking at me and thinking “they should shut her up and see what we can do, she already did hers!” One of the background singers on this record, Dorian Holley, was Michael Jackson’s background vocal ranger and vocal singer for over 25 years. He’s a studied, amazing singer. And the two people he brought with him (Brandon Winbush and Denise Janae Green) are also amazing singers.
As a huge James Bond fan I can’t talk to you and not mention All Time High. That’s quite an elite club you’re in!
Absolutely. I mean, Adele… That’s as big as it gets! It’s great to be in that group of singers. When I recorded All Time High, Tim Rice came in the studio and he was still finishing the lyrics as we were recording – we were waiting for them to do the recording – so in a sense I felt like it’s a great song, but I felt he didn’t finish it. Phil Ramone turned it into a great record, but as a song it doesn’t stand up to me like some of the songs on the new record, or even We’re All Alone.
Safe In The Arms Of Love is out now and available right here, including the 2 disc, white, etched vinyl. Rita Coolidge plays 4 consecutive nights at Boisdale starting on May 14th, tickets are available here.
Featured image: Matt Beard.