Anita Baker Is Back With a Hit and a Plan for Covers Album
Anita Baker Is Back With a Hit and a Plan for Covers Album

Her Take on Tyrese's 'Lately' Debuts in Top 10 of Urban AC Chart

Anita Baker says the prospect of her first all-new album in eight years "just kinda feels surreal."

"It's kind of like I'm dreaming," Baker tells Billboard about "Only Forever," which is due out Oct. 23 with the first single, a version of Tyrese's 1999 hit "Lately" produced by The Underdogs, just out and surging on the charts. "I've talked about it for so long, I've worked on it for so long, talked to so many people about it -- and it's finally here. It's no longer an idea or a concept. It's in my hand. I'm holding it, touching it. It's pretty great."

The Grammy Award-winning songstress cites a couple of factors behind the long wait for "Only Forever," including her divorce from husband Walter Bridgforth, Jr., management shuffles at her label, Blue Note Records, and a process that found Baker starting work on the album in an analog studio in Nashville during 2010, then switching to digital.

"It was a whole little experiment to see what would make the transition," says Baker, who credits new Blue Note president Don Was with helping her get everything in final form. "The test here is can I keep my analog heart and soul but still be of my time as well. If I'm here, I need to be able to adapt and move forward and express myself within the mediums of the day but still make it sound honest to who I am -- and that was a big task. I learned a lot transferring from analog to digital."

"Lately" has gotten the "Only Forever" campaign off to a strong start, with an Aug. 6 launch during which Clear Channel's Urban Adult Contemporary stations played the song every single hour. The strategy worked: "Lately" debuted at No. 10 on Billboard's Urban AC chart and No. 41 on R&B Songs.

Baker says the song is "a prelude" to a covers album she hopes to do in the future and adds that she started performing it in an effort to lure Tyrese back into music.

"He was off doing movies and stuff, and he was between movies and was like, 'Man, I really need to be doing something," Baker explains. "I'm like, 'What are you talking about?! You're a singer, man! You need to sing!' "

The song has been a regular part of her live act, and she says Tyrese will appear on the album version of the song.

Besides The Underdogs, Baker's other collaborators on "Only Forever" include bassist Nathan East, who took on some co-production duties and "was basically my quality control, 'cause he knows my tradition and my origins," Barry Eastmond (who produced 2004's "My Everything" and "Christmas Fantasy" in 2005) and songwriter Tom Keene, while Baker produced a track called "Falling In Love" and joined forces with Was for another tune called "Free." "Heartbeat" was co-written by the late Vernon Fails, and other titles include "Let Go," "Play Me Your Music" and the title track. "It's just a bunch of ol' love songs, the kind of stuff that we do," Baker says.

Baker is next slated to perform on Aug. 22 at the Hollywood Bowl, with shows also announced in Highland, Calif., and at the Minnesota State Fair. "I'm always on the road," she says. "We're out there all the time; we just don't blast it. It just never occurs to me to announce, like, a tour -- it's like getting up and alerting the media, 'I'm going to work!' That's just creepy to me. We sell out everywhere we go, so people do know about it, and that's all that matters."