Fans of Grammy and Emmy nominated artist Michael Feinstein and George and Ira Gershwin will be thrilled that Feinstein’s latest album, “Gershwin Country”, will officially drop on March 11, 2022! This exceptional collection of Gershwin songs, reimagined, is produced by Liza Minnelli, a longtime friend and collaborator of Feinstein. Krauss, Brad Paisley, Lyle Lovett, Rosanne Cash and many more.
The story behind the album
George Gershwin (1898-1937) not only composed some of the most important orchestral works of the 20th century (“Rhapsody in Blue”, “An American in Paris”), he also wrote the groundbreaking opera in English “Porgy & Bess (including the hit “Summertime”) before achieving great success in popular music, collaborating with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin (1896-1983).
Together the brothers would write some of the most influential songs of the time, forever changing the landscape of American musical theatre. In 1924, the brothers collaborated on the musical “Lady Be Good” (“Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh, Lady Be Good!”) followed by “Oh, Kay!”, “Funny Face” (1927) and “Strike Turn Up the Tape” (1927). Later, with the rise of musical films, the Gershwins took their talents to Hollywood, writing more than two dozen scores for stage and screen before George’s untimely death at 38. year.
Gershwin’s influence on Feinstein cannot be overstated. “As a person who has fallen in love with [George] Gershwin a long time ago, I cannot be objective about his work, nor that of his brother Ira, because all of this touches me too deeply, ”says the singer and pianist. “Since I first heard them decades ago, the songs have felt personal, and as I have sung them over the years, they have become multi-faceted diamonds, revealing new angles of truth and depth with each exploration.”
At age 20, Feinstein began a six-year tenure with Ira, serving as assistant and archivist, among other roles. This pivotal experience informed the musician’s career, inspiring his widely acclaimed 1987 debut, “Pure Gershwin,” and encouraging him to become the preeminent educator, archivist, performer, and ambassador of the Great American Songbook.
As an extension of his work, Feinstein founded the Great American Songbook Foundation, which works to preserve and elevate America’s rich musical heritage. He also serves on the National Recording Preservation Board at the Library of Congress, an organization dedicated to ensuring the survival, preservation, and increased public availability of America’s sound recording heritage.
When asked how “Gershwin Country” was made, Feinstein said, “A lot of things happen artistically because of my instincts. And in the case of this recording, it was really just an idea that germinated like one among many others. As I was trying to decide what I wanted for my next recording project, the idea came up to take Gershwin’s songs and reinterpret them in country mode. Part of that idea certainly came from my friendship with Maya Angelou and my visit to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was a huge country music fan, which might surprise people who don’t know much about her musical tastes, which were incredibly eclectic.
Feinstein continued, “That’s where I really focused on the idea that the greatest performers of lyrics, the best storytellers of popular music are country singers. The idea then came to take Gershwin’s songs and recast them in a way that could possibly appeal to a different or wider audience, and that’s the genesis of the album.
The collaborative process
Feinstein explained that initially defining the lineup for the album and associating the artists with the tracks on that particular album was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
“Not knowing if I had all the pieces, it was definitely hard to kick off the album in terms of the songs,” Feinstein explained. “I started by making lists of voices that I love and those that I think could be interesting for these songs. The first people I thought of were Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton.
From then on, Feinstein sought out the best talent in the genre, including his venerable co-producer Kyle Lehning, who has helmed projects for Kenny Rogers, Faith Hill, and Randy Travis, among others. Lehning, in turn, brought together some of Nashville’s most esteemed musicians to support the sessions, including Bryan Sutton (acoustic guitar, mandolin), Steve Brewster (drums), Viktor Krauss (bass), and Kerry Marx (electric guitar).
Feinstein added, “Once Kyle was on board, the project was a real reality, and it was with his help that I was able to reach out to the rest of the performers who eventually appear on the album. And I don’t want to forget that Liza [Minnelli] became the executive producer of the album because when I talked to her about [the album] she offered to help him. She was amazing in the way she went through the songs and had different ideas on how they should be interpreted.
Feinstein shared that his friend Liza not only grew up on Gershwin’s songs, but that his famous director father, Vincente Minnelli, was very close to the Gershwin brothers. The famous director was not only a close friend of George and Ira, but he also chose the younger brother Gershwin to be Liza’s godfather. “Gershwin Country” ends with a poignant duet of “Embraceable You” by Feinstein and Liza Minnelli.
“Liza had the perspective and understanding of the songs that made her perfect for her artistic involvement,” Feinstein said. “So all of those elements brought ‘Gershwin Country’ together. Each of those cuts on the record has a very specific musical roadmap or routine where I sing along with the singers and we do something useful that gives song a reason to be sung as a duet.
The process of pairing artists with songs from “Gershwin Country” was truly a collaborative effort.
“Some of the artists didn’t know Gershwin, and that’s understandable because there’s a lot of country music that I don’t know,” Feinstein humbly shared. “Some of the artists said ‘Yes’ because they knew my work and wanted to sing with me. Some made suggestions on what songs they wanted to sing, and others left it up to me to choose the songs. In most cases, the artists asked me to suggest songs. Half of the songs were recorded in person with the duo partners and the other half was done virtually because of the pandemic, but there had close input from everyone. It was the subtlety of the interpretation that made it so delightful for both of us to go back and say, “Let’s try that phrase this way,” or “Let’s change it up.” tone here”, or “Let’s take a step up or do a vocal flourish”. .’ It was the most rewarding experience to come up with an idea and immediately have these genius musicians say, “Oh, you mean like that? and play it!”
A renewed appreciation for the Gershwins and the arts in general
This latest musical masterpiece created by Feinstein and his fellow collaborators not only introduces the iconic music of the Gershwin brothers to a whole new genre of music, but the album also exposes a wider demographic and younger generations to the best of life. a bygone musical era. As an ambassador for The Great American Songbook, Feinstein is excited about the exposure and bringing Gershwin’s name to the center of today’s mainstream music scene via the country music genre.
“I think most artists would agree that the pandemic has increased appreciation for music and the arts,” Feinstein said. “It gave us a better understanding of how art unites people in a way that goes beyond words. It gives us a sense of hope, optimism and belief that there is a greater strength at hand to help us. Having the opportunity to make a recording at that time was not only helpful, but it connected me to various artists in different ways. It gave us an opening to talk about our spiritual beliefs and what music means to us. Music is a sacred thing. Even a simple 32-bar popular song has the power to transform itself in ways that none of us will ever take for granted again. .
Mark your calendars!
Available for pre-order now on CD and digital, “Gershwin Country” hits stores March 11, with a portion of all proceeds going to MusiCares, a Recording Academy partner that provides a health services support system and services for a wide range of needs, including physical and mental health, addiction recovery, preventative clinics, unforeseen personal emergencies, and disaster relief to the music community.
And starting in early 2022, Feinstein will also pay tribute to Liza’s mother, Judy Garland, with a tour dedicated to the beloved star in celebration of her centenary. For more information on the album pre-sale and a complete list of tour dates, visit MichaelFeinstein.com.
“It’s my hope and intention to bring this tour to Carmel,” Feinstein said. “I’m proud of what we’ve put in place, and I can certainly visualize that easily at the Palladium [in Carmel] with projections on the big screen of Liza’s family photographs and personal videos that complete the musical part of the program. So I really hope to bring it locally, and if not locally, it will definitely be somewhere nearby.
Tickets are already on sale at thecenterpresents.org for Feinstein’s upcoming performance at the Center for the Performing Arts with guest artist Sandi Patty on May 7, 2022.