When Trisha Yearwood sat down with producer Don Was and engineer Al Schmitt to discuss her new tribute album, Let’s Be Frank, she handed them an extensive wish list.
“I have these 100 songs,” a laughing Yearwood recalls telling the pair. “What do we do now?” Then Was suggested a simple solution. “He asked me if I had to write down my top 12 off the top of my head, what would they be,” says Yearwood. And from there the trio was off and running. The album was recorded in four days and mixed in another four days.
That was just one of several making-of-the-album takeaways that music fans were treated to when the Grammy Museum kicked off its 2019 slate of events with The Drop: Trisha Yearwood With Don Was & Al Schmitt. Presented by American Express, the Jan. 8 program featured a Q&A with the three, moderated by the museum’s Scott Goldman.
Capping the evening was an illuminating live performance by Yearwood. Backed by a 10-piece group, she drew hearty applause and a standing ovation while performing four songs from Let’s Be Frank, including “Come Fly with Me,” “Witchcraft,” “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” and “For the Last Time,” an original song written by Yearwood and husband Garth Brooks.
In introducing the emotional “For the Last Time,” Yearwood said, “For the press and others here, I don’t want you to think that I had the audacity to feel I needed to include this on the album. With apologies to Harold Arlen and the other writers of these incredible songs, this is a ballad written from a place of truth and honesty. When Don heard it, he said, ‘It fits. Let’s put it on.’”
Among other takeaways from the museum’s chat with Yearwood, Was and Schmitt:
Getting the jitters. Actually Year said she felt “sheer terror” at the start of the first session. “You don’t want to be the one person in the 55 or 62 [she was backed by a 55- and, at one point, a 62-piece orchestra] that screws up,” she added. “This is live. I was so nervous before singing the first song. But I credit Don, Al and Vince [arranger Mendoza]. They didn’t make me feel like I was this country girl stepping out of my zone. They made me feel like I belonged.”
Avoiding the karaoke trap. Was [also Blue Note Records president] acknowledged that there’s definitely a balancing act involved when a singer covers well-known songs by another artist. That’s making sure the singer stays true to him/herself without sounding like an imitation. In the case of Yearwood, he noted that “she can dig under the lyric and make it her own song. It’s about whether it’s [the cover] ringing true and communicating. I got chills listening to her sing—that’s the barometer. You can’t Einstein these things.”
Studying Ol’ Blue Eyes. While viewing video clips and listening to Sinatra records, Yearwood said she also referenced versions of his songs covered by other singers. “I didn’t want to copy him,” she explained, “but I didn’t want to do something so radically different that listeners wouldn’t know the song.” The biggest connection she found with Sinatra was that “he read lyrics like they were a story. That’s how I approach a country song. And we still record live in Nashville.”
Sitting on Frank’s stool at Capitol. “I sat on the stool and took a picture, of course,” said Yearwood, who also recorded using Sinatra’s original microphone. “There’s something to be said for the vibe in that room.”
Working with Schmitt for the first time. “I was nervous just to sing in front of Don and Al,” said Yearwood. “But in my 28 years of making records, I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun.” Chimed in Schmitt [who worked on Sinatra’s Duets album], “As soon as Trish opened her mouth to sing, it was oh my god, this is a record. I just told her to relax and we’d take care of everything so she could be comfortable doing her own thing.”
One song not making the cut. During the sequencing process, in order to comfortably fit tracks on the vinyl version, Yearwood said that to everyone’s chagrin, a hard choice was made to leave off a planned 13th track, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” Asked during the audience Q&A if the song will be included as a bonus track, Yearwood said she didn’t know. But with a wide grin, she added, “I’m ready to do another [Sinatra] album.”
Let’s Be Frank, which debuted exclusively at Williams Sonoma stores nationwide in December, will go wide on Feb. 15 through Yearwood’s Gwendolyn Records. She’ll perform live from the Rainbow Room in New York City on Feb. 14 for a special Valentine’s Day event.
Upcoming Grammy Museum programs include A Conversation with Nile Rodgers and Merck Mercuriadis (Jan. 15), An Evening with Thelma Houston (Jan. 17), Icons of the Music Industry: Ken Ehrlich (Jan. 29) and the sold-out An Evening with Bob Newhart (Feb. 12).