Time was we didn’t seem to worry over niche categories all that much when it came to letting a special talent do their stuff. When Ray Charles wanted to make a country record or Sinatra had a notion to do an instrumental album, you got out of the way and let the muse take them where it will. Ethel Merman went disco,Streisand sang rock, and teen idol Bobby Darin became a fingerpoppin’ lounge lizard and a guitar-strumming folkie.
Until just a couple of years ago, you might have pegged Linda Eder as that coolly poised, scrupulously capable interpreter and originator of Broadway standards old and new. A breakout champion of TV’s Star Search and frequent leading lady of epic shows by her husband Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, Svengali, Camille Claudel) — kind of the Sarah Brightman to his Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Something unexpected happened to the public persona of Linda Eder in recent years, however. Putting some distance between herself and those melodramatic period roles following a 2004 divorce from Wildhorn, the award-winning vocalist began to leave the big orchestras home and explore her skills in a more intimate setting. Critics and fans alike noticed a star who was more relaxed, more confidently in command of the concert stage than ever before — but even that didn’t prepare them for The Other Side of Me.
A set of songs in a contemporary country pop vein, the 2008 album featured the Minnesota native with guitars, fiddles, plus a bunch of classics (by Joni Mitchell, theIndigo Girls and others) and newly introduced compositions that included her own original “Waiting for the Fall.” One can imagine music-biz types hyperventilating into paper bags over this flouting of established protocol — but devoted fans didn’t seem to mind, embracing it as the labor of love it obviously was.
Not that Eder ever really turned her back on the songbook standards that won her so many devotees in the first place. She’s continued to walk a line that straddles both Music Row and the Great White Way — and when Linda Eder revisits the Count Basie Theatre this Thursday night, May 21, it won’t be about her own personal Jekyll-Hyde dichotomy, or any particular “side of me.” It’ll be All of Me, the title of her new touring show, and as apt a description of her generous approach to engaging the audience as any you can think of — even if it weren’t already the name of a great old Tin Pan Alley song.
Red Bank oRBit spoke with Eder as she prepared to debut the new stage show;Continue Reading for ten questions and answers.
RED BANK ORBIT: This will be your first trip back to the Count Basie Theatre since they gave it a major makeover, and I think you’ll like what you see when you roll into town on Thursday night — but I’m interested in the fact that your show is being called a “sneak preview;” is it something that’s still evolving, still being workshopped to some extent?
LINDA EDER: This will be the show, just as it’s going to be seen. A combination of the two types of shows I’ve been doing — the Broadway, big band standards, and the country pop show, called The Other Side of Me. Only this time instead of one side of me it’s All of Me!
Are you doing it as an Act One and Act Two sort of format; two different shows for the price of one?
We’re going to mix it up. I have a lot of material to work with now, and we’re trying to incorporate everything; to do justice to all of the music we’ve done. I like a song that can be done both ways — I have two musical directors that I work with regularly; there’s John Oddo, whose forte is the standards, and then there’s Billy Jay Stein, who’s very versatile, very strong with pop material. I actually work with the same drummer in both bands, so there’s consistency there.
When I did the country pop album, I had been doing the same sort of big band, Broadway music for a number of years; on things like the Judy Garland album and the Broadway album the guitar wasn’t there. I felt that I had gotten as good as I could get, and that it was time to get back to the raw Linda.
When you made that move, did you worry about alienating a lot of people from the fanbase that had grown around your stage work and your orchestral stuff?
It was a decision that had to be made, to work with a completely different band, a different genre of music — but we’ve had success with it; people have really responded to it. Actually, with the Christmas shows that I did last year, I used the country-pop band instead of the big band, and I would say they were the most successful Christmas shows I’ve done to date.
Sounds like it’s been a pretty experimental interlude for you.
In LA, I played rock and roll type clubs; a whole other type of venue from what I’ve been used to. I even drank beer onstage!
So you’re not one of those singers that freaks out over the proper care and maintenance of the human voice?
I don’t really worry about those things — it’s not like there’s anything that I won’t eat. It’s mostly getting enough sleep; that’s the most important thing you can do for your voice.
But the hardest thing, the biggest challenge in performing live is having a school-age child. A lot of my concerts are at 8:00 or later — sometimes 9:30 at night. You do the show and you want to make sure your child gets to bed on time for school the next day.
When school lets out for the year, does your son ever tag along on tour with you?
Not too often. He rarely comes along — he’s much happier at home! And I work primarily on the weekends instead of going out for a long time. I’m here, close to home the majority of the time.
Well, it seems like you’ve reached an enviable place; balancing career and parenthood, making some bold moves artistically…
I’m a country girl at heart, and I feel really comfortable working this way. I’m especially excited about the response I’ve gotten to the original song that I did for the last album, and it’s inspired me to write a few more since.
Bear with me while I ask one goofy question. Finish this sentence: a lot of people might be surprised to learn that Linda Eder likes to listen to…
I listen mostly to modern, country pop singers — that’s not a surprise, I know, since I made The Other Side of Me, but it is what I’m listening to now. Not so much Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand anymore — they were my teachers, you know, but I likeLady Antebellum, Little Big Town — I’d like to write for Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood. Those are the kind of voices I like.
What kind of a band are you traveling with for the All of Me show?
I’m playing with the musicians from the country pop band, and we’re bringing over the sax player from the big band; our bass player is really versatile, he can can play both upright and electric. It’s not a big band, but — nowadays a seven-piece band can be considered extravagant!
Until recently I guess I always thought of you as a full-orchestra kind of performer, but even with the more stripped-down sound you’ve been pursuing lately, you still like that mix of instruments, don’t you, when you play a theater-size venue?
I like to have a lot of music behind me — sometimes, to me, a song doesn’t come to life on record; it needs something extra. The theatricality of a live performance.