Jeff Beck is confident that "there'll be a few raised eyebrows" when fans get an earful of his new album, "Emotion & Commotion."
Due out April 13, his first studio album in seven years features orchestral arrangements on nine of its 10 tracks and also finds Beck covering standards from the Great American Songbook ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow") and opera (Puccini's "Nessun Dorma") as well as the traditional "Corpus Christi Carol." It also features vocalists -- Joss Stone, Imelda May and Olivia Safe -- on four songs.
"It's a hell of a risk," Beck tells Billboard.com with a laugh. "It's as close as I can get to playing things people understand, I think. Maybe I'll lose some people. Maybe I'll gain some. But all I can tell you is I've seen grown men, after 'Nessun Dorma' and 'Corpus Christi' with the orchestra, just lose it. You could tell in their eyes, they were gone. It seems to work from an emotional level. I'm quite pleased with the way it's going."
He adds that, "The emotion of playing, say, 'Elegy For Dunkirk' (from the film 'Atonement') is in some ways more intense and more gut-wrenching than playing the blues, 'cause those composers knew how to get you. The simplicity and just poring yourself into those phrasings is not dissimilar from blues at all. I'm sure people like Mahler and Holst and all the people that wrote such amazing music would agree with that. They want to get you to react."
Beck is previewing some of the "Emotion & Commotion" material, with his band and 30-piece orchestras, during his run of shows with Eric Clapton that started last week at London's O2 Arena and continues this week (Feb. 18-19) at Madison Square Garden in New York City, with shows also slated for Toronto (Feb. 21) and Montreal (Feb. 22). He's also gearing up for his own world tour (sans orchestra), which begins March 25 in Adelaide, Australia, and also hits Japan before arriving in North America on April 16. Beck will perform on May 1 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and June 26 at Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival near Chicago, and on June 8-9 he'll join May and her band for a tribute to Les Paul at the Iridium Jazz Club, the late guitarist innovator's old haunt in New York.
Beck, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2009 and won a Grammy Award last month for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, is also producing a rockabilly album for May's husband, guitarist Darrel Higham.