Given his roots in the UK’s late 1980s acid house movement and success as a global pop star, the idea of Seal diving into the Great American Songbook doesn’t immediately click as a creative coupling. But as an artist who has always been about honoring the song and as someone who grew up in a household where the songcraft of Burt Bacharach, Hal David and Motown’s deep stable of lyricists were part of the London native’s background, a project like Standards doesn’t wind up seeming so odd. With a move to his new home at Republic Records, the man born Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel was ready to dive into a passion project with help from producer Nick Patrick [Hans Zimmer].
“These are great songs and if you love to sing, as I do, it’s a wonderful opportunity to do some great [tunes]. Also, the people from Universal approached me with a great deal of passion. And I think if you get the [chance] to embark on a project with people who are passionate about it, you have to take advantage of that opportunity because they can be few and far between,” he explained.
The 11 songs that make up Standards (14 on the Deluxe Edition which includes bonus cuts “The Nearness of You,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and “Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)”) represent stories composers like Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers (a sublime and subtle “My Funny Valentine”), Cole Porter (the lovingly lush “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”) and Great Neck’s own Ervin Drake (a string-kissed “It Was a Very Good Year”). Seal’s rich and sonorous phrasing fit hand in glove with conductor Chris Walden’s sumptuous arrangements. Between the embarrassment of riches presented by the depth of the Great American Songbook and the complexity of the material, Seal was enthralled by the entire process.
“The pot to choose from is so vast and deep that you can’t really go wrong,” he said. “With standards, even the ones that you’re not familiar with or sure of at first, after singing them a few times, you just realize that they’re beautiful songs and there’s a reason why they’ve been around this long. They were meticulously written, conceived and recorded.”
With this current tour, Seal is looking forward to working with small orchestras in some markets, all while weaving in his own songs with these chestnuts. Concertgoers can expect an opening set of standards that gives way to an acoustic section, where he’ll be performing hits like “Prayer for the Dying,” “Kiss From a Rose” and “Crazy.” While he’s been surprised at how well they blend, tackling these more intricate compositions has given him an appreciation for the craft that went into them.
“It’s interesting how well these songs work with my own original material. I guess the common denominator is my voice. I’ve learned so much from doing these standards and learned so much about my own music,” he mused. “It’s altered my approach to singing. These standards are written and more specifically, arranged for the voice in a way that’s very rare to come across today. It’s not enough to just sing the song—you have to tell the story, and that’s a whole separate thing. If you think of people like Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra—they were great singers but boy, they were even better storytellers. Once you understand that the voice is about carrying the narrative, you realize how exposed you are.”
Having gotten such a thrill from doing this material, Seal is anxious to delve deeper, all while continuing to write and record his own music. With the music industry in such flux, he’s even considered recording only singles and possibly only releasing EPs or collections of singles versus a traditional album of sequential tracks. In the end, his concern is with staying true to himself, his fans and the compositions, whether he wrote them or not.
“I think the song, the song, the song. As long as I feel like I’m contributing and honoring the song, then it’ll make it to a record. But if I feel like I’m not doing the song good service, then obviously [I’ll pass],” he said. “I’m never going to compromise my integrity. I’m never just going to put out a single in order to compete. I don’t feel I need to compete. I just feel that the people that I’m fortunate enough to have like [me as an artist] expect great music from me. They expect a level of music that has integrity, authenticity and for it to resonate and say something, whether that’s as a single, an EP or an album of 10 songs.”
Seal will be appearing on June 26 at the Beacon Theatre, 74th Street & Broadway, NYC. Visit www.beacontheatre.com or call 866-858-0008 for more information.
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