Country hitmaker Sylvia has a new album coming out on June 8. Titled Second Bloom, the release is full of songs that she knows very well. The 1982 ACM Female Vocalist of the Year winner re-recorded many of her classic hits for RCA Records, and today Billboard is premiering a new version of her 1980 hit “Tumbleweed.”
What was it like for the singer to go back and re-create some of her biggest moments? “It felt great,” she told Billboard. “It was a really joyful experience. The first impulse to do this project came over a year ago. It felt like being with an old friend. Of course, I have sung these songs for years. But when you’re about to commit them to a recording that will hopefully stand some test of time, you look at them in a deeper way. I think John Mock — who I co-produced the album with — and I wanted to honor the original recordings, and what made them unique. There are certain licks on the songs that have become signature, and you want to preserve that.” At the same time, she notes that things have changed just a bit since the songs originally came out.
“In the 1980s, everybody was playing with technology, and the disco era was in full tilt, and my music had some of those influences – which is great. I love ’80s music. But we asked ourselves ‘How would these songs want to be recorded today?’ They have been evolving over the years. It felt like I was recording them for the first time. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”
With three decades of life experience under her belt since these songs first made an impact, the singer says that she approached some of the songs from a totally different perspective.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to make this record – to bring the voice I have today to these songs. Everything in your life shows up in your voice, and there’s been a lot of life lived since those days. In some cases, I felt like an actress singing these songs because so much of the things I was singing about I hadn’t experienced yet. Well, guess what? I’ve experienced a lot of the things in these songs now – maybe more than once. So, there was a richness in my approach, and a lot more I could bring to it.”
Take, for instance, “Tumbleweed.” She said she understands the song a little more today than when she originally released it.
“On my original recording, I felt a lot more hurt. There was a sense of frustration to it in trying to talk the guy out of running away from her or love. The way that I wanted to approach this song now was in more of an introspective sense of being the observer, and almost empathizing with him – knowing that he wants his freedom, but he’s going to be lonely. It’s a lonely life. You trade one for the other. There were a lot of subtle things like that in these new recordings, where I had a different perspective for all these type situations.”
“Tumbleweed” was Sylvia’s first top ten hit, following two releases (“You Don’t Miss A Thing” and “It Don’t Hurt To Dream”) that inched no higher than No. 35 on the Hot Country Songs chart. What goes through her mind when she hears the song today?
“I was greatly relieved and thrilled because I felt like my dreams were about to start coming true. I think when you get a recording contract, you think ‘Oh, good. I’m in.’ But at that time, it was three strikes and you’re out. If your third single didn’t get into the top 10, you would be dropped from the label. I have to say that there was some relief in the record making it to the top 10. But I also felt great, because it was a song that I felt really suited my voice. I love poignant kinds of songs that tap into that kind of emotion. I think that song fit me. It fit the time. In fact, (songwriters) Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan had actually gone to see Urban Cowboy, and they were inspired to write the song from watching the movie. It was a song that was inspired by the times, but also I think it’s a well-written song that I think could live in any era.”
That aforementioned songwriting team of Fleming and Morgan is represented well on Second Bloom, with six of the ten cuts bearing their name. She says her debt to them is a large one. “There would not be a career, or anything close to what it looks like if it had not been for Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan. They were my friends, and wrote for the publishing company that I worked at the first four and a half years I was in Nashville. They knew that I wanted to get a recording contract and to have a career in music. They really tried to write songs for me. Because they knew me, and knew my voice, they could do that. They would bring songs into the publishing company, and I knew they were going to play them for Tom Collins. I remember hearing ‘Tumbleweed,’ and I said ‘OK, tell Tom he can’t pitch that to Barbara Mandrell. That’s my song.’ I had that kind of relationship, and they would tell him ‘No, this is for Sylvia.'”
It wasn’t just Sylvia who struck gold with their compositions. The duo also provided hits for Steve Wariner, Ronnie Milsap, Charley Pride, and Mandrell. “I think they actually shaped that moment in country music history,” says Sylvia. “They didn’t try to ride the coattails of any kind of trend. They were doing it their way. They came in and wrote nine to five every day. They were serious about it, and there was a real magic about that combination. I knew Dennis a year before Kye moved to town, and he was a great writer, but something incredible happened when they paired up and started writing together. They hit their stride pretty quickly. They were having fun – and it showed.”