You’ll Love Lucy

People who only know singer/songwriter Lucy Woodward from her 2003 pop hit “Dumb Girls” are in for a shock when they listen to her upcoming release Hooked! – a pleasant shock, but a shock nonetheless.

Woodward will be treating fans in New York City to a preview of the new album April 19 at New York University’s Skirball Theatre.

While there’s no doubt that a full-scale tour is in the works behind the singer’s brilliant new project, the only dates on the books so far are in August, including a stop at Seattle’s Triple Door (August 12), the Mt. Diablo Jazz Festival in Concord, Calif. (August 14), and the KJAZZ Wine & Jazz Series at Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles (August 24).

From the first beat of the toms on “He Got Away,” the cut that opens Hooked!, it’s clear that something different and delightful is going on here. By the time track two, a gorgeously decadent cover of Peggy Lee’s “San Souci,” kicks in, you’re likely to find yourself wanting to pull up a barstool and dive into a Manhattan.

So how – or better yet, why – did Lucy Woodward, whose Wikipedia entry reads “[She] began her musical life the moment she was born,” transform herself into the 21st century equivalent of Lee or Rosemary Clooney?

“I grew up,” the singer admits. “As you get older and make more music, you gain a better understanding of who you are and what you need to feel satisfied. That’s what this record is for me.”

To help mold the sound of the mature Lucy Woodward, the singer enlisted the help of producer Justin Stanley (Nikka Costa, Eric Clapton), longtime collaborators Tim K. (Les Nubians, Esthero) and Itaal Shur (Groove Collective, Santana) and, for the bulk of the tracks, producer Tony Visconti, who has helped David Bowie evolve through the decades on albums from 1969’s Space Oddity to 2003’s Reality.

Also lending a hand is pal Nellie McKay, who wrote the deceptively wicked confection “Another Woman” and added her voice to the track’s harmonies.

The centerpiece of the album is a roll-up-the-rug-and-push-back-the-furniture cover of “I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” which was a smash hit for Louis Prima in 1967.

“I wanted to make a modern-day torch record, but I didn’t want to do a record of all standards, because I had stuff I wanted to say,” the singer said, explaining the presence of swinging and strutting originals like “Too Much To Live For” and “Ragdoll.”

“This is the first time I’ve made a record where I didn’t write or co-write all of the songs,” she continued. “At first I was resistant to the idea of doing covers, but then I fell in love with the process of taking a song and trying to make it my own. And I could never write a song like ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ or ‘Stardust’ or ‘Sans Souci,’ so why limit myself?”

To give Hooked! an authentic sound, Woodward and her team did something that’s sadly becoming a rarity these days.

“There’s not a lot of bells and whistles on this record, and everything was recorded straight-up live. What I miss in a lot of music these days is the actual breath that lets a singer act and dance through their voice. There is so much musicality in that, but a lot of music now is so processed that is gone. So I wanted to allow space for breath on this record, which I’d never really done quite this way.”

What’s really interesting about Woodward’s new direction – and indeed, Hooked! – is that it almost didn’t happen, despite a youth spent immersed in the genre.

“When I was 19, I became obsessive about learning jazz standards,” the singer offered. “I would lock myself away for hours and hours, learning the vocabulary of this style, studying different singers’ vocal techniques, writing out the lyrics by hand and copping the riffs.

“After that, I met a bunch of pop writers and that felt good, so I followed that and started writing pop-rock songs. I got propelled into that whole 14-year-old pop world, and it didn’t feel like me anymore. It was fun and I’m grateful for that experience, and I have no regrets. But it got to the point where I realized that it didn’t feel right.”

Ironically, it was that teenage environment that inspired Woodward to reconnect with something she’d abandoned. The singer was asked to record a track for the soundtrack of Disney’s “Ice Princess.”

While working on the track, a big-band cover of Björk’s 1995 hit “It’s Oh So Quiet” (which is actually a renamed version of Betty Hutton’s 1948 song “Blow a Fuse”), something clicked.

“That was the turning point for me,” Woodward said. “It felt so organic and so right, and I felt so connected singing it. I realized that this is the music I should be making.”

Hooked!, Lucy Woodward’s Verve Records debut, is due out June 15. Until then, here’s a teaser video with clips from “Ragdoll” and “He Got Away” and a YouTube clip of a live performance of the song that closes out the album, a lush, goose bump raising, a cappella version of Hoagy Carmichael’s much-recorded standard, “Stardust.”

Lucy Woodward Promo from Plenty on Vimeo.