Rita Coolidge wasn’t yet recording her new album, Safe In The Arms of Time, when Graham Nash sent her “Doing Fine Without You,” a song he’d written with Russell Kunkel a couple of years ago. But getting the tune helped push the veteran singer toward her first album of new material in 13 years.
“Graham sent me that song about the time I was mulling all of this over in my mind,” Coolidge tells Billboard. “I had been listening to a lot of things, on the radio or CDs or whatever, and when I got that (song) it was like this final touch for me to say ‘Go ahead and do (the album).’ I wrote Graham back and said, ‘I love the song and I don’t know when I’m gonna be recording; If there’s any way you can put this song on hold I’d be eternally grateful.’ And he just said, ‘Done.’ As soon as I finished it I sent it to Graham and Russell, and they were both so happy.”
Safe in the Arms of Time comes out May 4 and follows the 2015 publication of her memoir Delta Lady. The idea sprouted about two and a half years ago, she says. “I was listening to some of my older records,” Coolidge says, “and there was just something so musical about them, before I became the queen of the adult-contemporary world with all these glistening, polished records (“We’re All Alone,” “You,” “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher”). It was just kind of a Southern, honest, organic treatment. I just wanted to capture that appeal again in a record, and I started looking for songs that were gonna have that.”
Coolidge was assisted in her quest by producer Ross Hogarth, with whom she “went through literally thousands of songs.” In addition to three she co-wrote she received contributions from Chris Stapleton, Keb’ Mo’ (her duet partner on “Walking On Water”), Stan Lynch and others. The songs were chosen through the prism of death (Coolidge lost her sister, Priscilla, during 2014 while Hogarth’s brother died during the sessions) and new love — specifically a relationship Coolidge renewed two years ago with a former college boyfriend.
“I wanted the album to have a narrative and a concept and a voice,” she explains. “It’s just about loving each other and the oneness we all share, the emotion we all share. I think when we wrote ‘You Can Fall In Love,’ it said it all. I wanted to send the message out that there is love all around us, you don’t need to be unhappy. Even ‘Doing Fine Without You,’ that message is there — if somebody has walked out the door and left you, you’re just fine. You’re better off without them, and there’s somebody out there for you, no matter how old you are. It’s just so there and still possible for us if we’re open to it. So that’s really what I wanted to say.”
Coolidge will be making fans happy with concerts to support Safe in the Arms of Time. Even better news is that she still has a “stockpile” of songs, including more that she’s written herself. That means it might not be such a long wait for another album, though Coolidge tries to temper any expectations. “Let’s get this one out and see what happens first,” she says. “But my deal with Blue Elan is for three albums, and at my age that means I better get busy. I think I will.”