JD Souther knew he was on the right track for the lusher, gentler sound he was after for his new album, Tenderness, when he came up with the song “Dance Real Slow.”
“That’s the pivotal track of the album,” Souther says of the tune. “It was even the title (track) for awhile. But ‘Dance Real Slow’ is a very deliberate attempt to write a song combining that real old-school, Cole Porter kind of style, where there’s a verse before the song actually starts. I’m just setting the story, and when the whole band comes in, we’re in a more contemporary-shaped song, although the melodies have a couple [of] adventurous leaps. But it’s still mostly a simple melody, and once it gets going it’s just a regular verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus song.”
Souther — best known for songs he’s written for the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt? and Bonnie Raitt, among others — says “Dance Real Slow” also fits the creative mission that gave birth to Tenderness. “I wanted to make a movie,” he explains. “I couldn’t afford to make a movie, so I made an album. But (‘Dance Real Slow’) is very specific. I had a picture of that in my mind. I could’ve made a film of that song.” It is, in fact, one of two tracks from the album that Souther is considering making a video for. Listen to “Dance Real Slow,” which Billboard is exclusively premiering below.
That cinematic ambition, Souther says, helped inspire Tenderness‘ quiet character, a serene and lush soundscape produced by Larry Klein, with string quartet arrangements by Billy Childs. “I wanted simple melodies and really beautiful arrangements,” he says. “I wanted a really nice landscape for these stories to play out in. I just wanted to drive a little more gently; Mario Andretti once said the ideal is to win the race at the slowest speed, meaning you protect the equipment. It’s smooth. Winning a race is about power, but it’s also about being smooth, and I think singing that’s believable is about being smooth and not trying to shove something down the audience’s throat.”
That philosophy also made an impact on Souther’s vocal approach to the album (which comes out May 12) — for the good, he believes. “I think I sang this album better than I’ve sung any album before,” he says. “I’m not singing licks and trying to do fancy things. I’m just singing the melody; it seems to tell the story better. I didn’t have to strain. It didn’t tempt me to sing a bunch of licks or to oversing or sing too loud. Linda Ronstadt always tells me to pronounce the words, and she’s right. It makes a big difference. It gives the song more truth.”