Annie Lennox is taking a trip back.
Nostalgia, her first non-holiday album in seven years, is a collection of the iconic singer’s impassioned takes on standards primarily from the 1930s and 1940s, many of them popularized by the likes of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Jo Stafford and Louis Armstrong.
The album was produced by her longtime collaborator Mike Stevens, and finds Lennox at her most soulful, bringing levels of depth and warmth to songs that primarily originated from the civil-rights era.
And to give the lushly arranged album the appropriately intimate treatment, Blue Note/Capitol will issue Nostalgia as a three-week vinyl exclusive starting Sept. 30, before distributing on digital and physical formats on Oct. 21. An international release date, via Island Records, is expected to be announced shortly.
Lennox tells Billboard that Nostalgia is the result of hours spent on YouTube perusing vintage recordings and video performances of songs from the Great American Songbook, particularly those rooted in the blues. “I was just curious, I thought, ‘I wonder what my voice would be like. Would these songs suit my voice?’ It was like a little challenge,” Lennox says. “I just sort of got to know them, became friends with them really and had a great deal of joy in the process.”
Billboard can also exclusively premiere the album’s cover and track listing, which includes three songs penned by Hoagy Carmichael — “Memphis In June,” “Georgia On My Mind” and “The Nearness Of You” — as well as selections from Johnny Green (“I Cover The Waterfront”), George Gershwin (“Summertime”), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (“I Put A Spell On You”), Billie Holiday (“Strange Fruit” and “God Bless The Child”), Harry Warren and Al Dubin (“September In The Rain”), Pee Wee King (“You Belong To Me”), Sammy Fain (“I Can Dream, Can’t I”) and Duke Ellington (“Mood Indigo.”)
The album was previewed for an intimate crowd Tuesday night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, where Lennox was introduced by her new Blue Note label boss Don Was. In a lengthy Q&A with the audience, and in speaking with Billboard, it’s clear that Lennox took a hands-on approach with her return to music. “I made my choices intuitively. I didn’t go to somebody and ask them to find me 30 songs. Once you invite them in, it becomes a part of your language — very personal. There’s an alchemy in it.”
Although Lennox released an album of contemporary covers in 1995, Medusa, she insists that Nostalgia is not the same concept. “I think of it as interpretations of songs that are part of a classic songbook, so it’s a very hallowed ground in a way. You don’t go to these songs lightly.”
Lennox has only done a smattering of live dates since her 2007 tour in support of Songs of Mass Destruction, but she says she’d “love to” do some performances in support of Nostalgia — but not too much.
“The thing is, at this point in time, less is more for me. I’m more about quality than quantity, and I think this is quite a niche place to be. I like that I found this little area of music that’s gentle and I feel introspective. It’s not something that you just kind of hear in the back — it kind of takes you, it transports you. It makes you feel something — it’s very emotive in a way.”
Nostalgia Track Listing
1. Memphis in June
2. Georgia on My Mind
3. I Cover the Waterfront
5. I Put a Spell on You
6. Strange Fruit
7. God Bless the Child
8. September in the Rain
9. You Belong to Me
10. I Can Dream, Can’t I
11. The Nearness of You
12. Mood Indigo