Michael Bolton says his latest album, "Gems -- The Duets Collection," was "like giving birth 21 times or something."
And it wasn't initially planned as a duets album, either.
Bolton tells Billboard.com that he was thinking duets would comprise "maybe half" of the album until he took part in one of producer/songwriter David Foster's Foster & Friends concerts, where he teamed with Seal for Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" and Laura Fabian on Foster and Carole Bayer Sager's "The Prayer." "That led to two duets in one evening," Bolton recalls, "so (the album) started looking like it was going to be 12 duets or 12 songs with guests joining us. The duets started revealing themselves as the artists started stepping forward.
"I don't remember a project evolving the way this one has. It was almost otherworldly. I'd be sitting in the studio finishing 'You Are So Beautiful' (with Chris Botti), and then the next day I'd be sitting in A.R. Rahman's studio working with him (on 'Sajna') and listening to all these tracks and sounds and textures from everywhere on Earth. It was an amazing experience."
"Gems" has become an international endeavor as well. Noting that the project "kept evolving and the momentum kept increasing to the point where it was physically impossible to include all the people I would have loved to include," Bolton has found a home for some of the collaborations on German and Asian versions of "Gems," with more editions of the album being considered for other territories. "We had people in the industry bringing artists forward, and some of them are the biggest artists in their country or region of the world," Bolton says. "We started getting calls about doing songs with artists who I never heard of, and I would have to get MP3s sent to me just so I could hear what they sounded like. And they were amazing."
Among those discoveries for Bolton was Germany's Helene Fischer, who sings on three tracks from the German version of "Gems" as well as Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" on the U.S. edition. "She's an enormous artist in Germany who should be recognized here in the States -- and hopefully is going to be after we're done introducing her," Bolton says. Hopefully she'll come over and do some shows with me, and in the meantime I'm going over to Germany to do a bunch of shows with her. So this them of introducing ourselves to each other's audiences in these different parts of the world is part of this (album), too."
"We wrote that 20 years ago," Bolton recalls, "and I remember just feeling like a little kid sitting in the room with him and thinking for the first half-hour, 'Oh my God, I'm really talking to Bob Dylan!' And now I'm in the room with Orianthi, this amazing, staggeringly talented guitarist who is ripping and playing amazing solos and power chords. The whole album was like that. There was very little effort made to try to find a place of comfort; it was just automatically all of this excitement about being part of the project that spilled over from artist to artist."