The 64-year-old singer-songwriter says the largely acoustic arrangements enabled her to reconnect with how she felt when she first wrote songs like her ironic first hit “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” or “The Right Thing to Do” before her producers added instrumental tracks.
“I went back to being that little girl with just the single guitar or piano,” she said, holding her brown poodle Molly on her lap during an interview. “I made them different because it was like something that had frozen in time that got defrosted and then … you can shape it whatever way you wanted.”
Simon said she’s now “in a really positive head space” compared to a year ago. She had been wooed by Starbucks’ Hear Music label which had successfully marketed albums by Paul McCartney and ex-husband James Taylor through its coffee houses. But just days before the April 2008 release of her Brazilian-flavored CD This Kind of Love, her first collection of original songs in eight years, Starbucks announced it was pulling back from the music business. Simon felt like her record had been “aborted” without the promised marketing push.
“It was really disheartening,” she said. “I just thought, ‘This isn’t for me. I’m just going to go into playing with dolphins … into saving the rain forest … doing all sorts of heart work.’ And Ben said, `Oh no, you’re not. You’re going to make another record and we’re going to do it here for no money.’“
Simon took up the challenge from her son, Ben Taylor – who played guitar, sang backup and wrote arrangements – to rerecord her old songs for an album he co-produced for his independent Iris label.
“He got me going when I didn’t think I could go,” she said. “He got me singing notes that I didn’t think I could sing.”
Simon – who included two new songs, “No Freedom” and “Songbird,” among the 12 tracks – acknowledges that some longtime fans might have trouble getting used to changes to iconic recordings like “You’re So Vain.”
“Who would have guessed that those big drums and that big guitar solo (on the original recording) wouldn’t be there and still there’s something very interesting about the arrangement?” she said.
Simon found that the passing years caused her to rethink lyrics to songs like “Anticipation” or “Boys In The Trees,” on which daughter Sally Taylor sings backup.
“When I first sang ‘Boys In The Trees,’ it was from the point of view of a daughter getting all the subliminal information from my mother about boys,” said Simon. “This version I was singing from a mother’s perspective to a daughter.”
Her musician friends – pianist Teese Gohl, guitarists Peter Calo and David Saw, and percussionist Larry Ciancia – deferred any payment and came to Martha’s Vineyard. She was thrilled to work on an R&B version of “You Belong to Me” with godson John Forte, a former Fugees producer whose 14-year prison sentence on drug charges was commuted last year by President Bush.
“This was a labor of love with everybody rallying around Carly,” said her longtime engineer and producer Frank Filipetti. “Carly threw herself into this with a new fervor that I hadn’t seen in a long time. … The best way to get Carly out of a funk is just to get her working.”
Simon has filed a lawsuit against Starbucks alleging “unfair and fraudulent business practices.”
“I don’t want to leave this legacy to my children … that you should just allow yourself to be stepped on,” she said.
In a statement, Starbucks said it was “disappointed that Ms. Simon has brought a lawsuit.” It added that the company carried out the “agreed upon marketing and promotional efforts” but “the title received tepid response from music consumers.”
Simon overcame her stage fright to sing her classic hit “Let the River Run” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She’s also planning her first-ever European tour next year despite her fear of flying. Her recording plans include a sequel to her 2005 standards album “Moonlight Serenade.”
And Simon says her musical faucet continues to flow: “I always seem to have an available melody to me, it’s sort of like breathing in a way.”