By Jim Harrington of Bay Area News Group
Harry Connick Jr. has accomplished so much during his lengthy career, from winning multiple Grammys and Emmys to selling over 25 million albums and starring in such Hollywood hits as “Independence Day” and “Hope Floats.”
On a purely musical note, he has recorded both instrumental and vocal efforts, delivered Christmas albums as well as a Tony-nominated original Broadway score, and he’s focused his talents on everything from Dixieland to funk to standards.
Oh, and he also found time to be a judge on TV’s “American Idol.” (But we won’t hold that against him.)
Yet going into 2020, the one thing that Connick had never managed to do was record a faith-based music album.
And now he can check that one off his list as well.
The multitalented star spent part of his time during the COVID-19 lockdown in his home studio, recording such classic hymns as “Amazing Grace,” “The Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art” as well as other faith-oriented material.
The result is the newly released “Alone With My Faith,” which is Connick’s first studio offering since 2019’s “True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter.”
I recently had the opportunity to chat with the New Orleans native about the new album.
Q: Take me back to March 2020. There’s a pandemic brewing, your tour is being canceled, and half of America decides to cuddle up on the couch and watch Netflix. Instead of joining us on the couch, why’d you decide the time was right to record an album?
A: Well, full disclosure — I watched as much Netflix as anybody else.
Q: Yeah, but at some point you presumably turned off Netflix — at least long enough to make an album.
A: I wanted to make some music. I was one of the lucky ones that was able to quarantine and kind of stay at home. One of the ideas that had been floating around in my head for a while was a gospel album. I started thinking about some tunes. There was no recording engineer, no musicians, so I went into my home studio and started recording everything myself. As I did a couple of those tunes, I’m having some feelings, kind of all over the map, about faith and spirituality, just based on what was going on in our world. So, I wrote some tunes and I incorporated those with the traditional songs. And it sort of turned into more of a faith album than a gospel album. I don’t know if I would have recorded this exact set of songs had this pandemic not happened. So, I feel grateful for that chance.
Q: And you took the whole solo album concept to the extreme here, playing all the instruments, singing all the parts, arranging all the music. Basically everything on it is you, right?
A: Literally everything. Yes.
Q: Even the horns? Backing vocals? That kind of everything?
A: Absolutely every note you hear.
Q: You know, such a gaudy display of overwhelming artistic ability isn’t going to win you any popularity points with me, given that my wife just loves to remind that “Harry Connick is just so talented. He can do everything.” Where were your concerns for me in all this?
A: Listen, you talk to my wife (actress/model Jill Goodacre) and all those concerns will be answered. That’s all I can say. As much as your wife thinks I can do anything, Jill would say, “Oh, my goodness — we know how far from the truth that is.” She’d be the first to tell you.
Q: Well, at least you didn’t try and direct the album’s first video — for “Amazing Grace” — or take the album cover photos yourself. You left those for your daughter Georgia. It seems that talent runs in the family.
A: Yeah, I am really proud of our kids. We have three daughters. Georgia is the oldest – she’s 24 – and she’s always been interested in film and editing and all that. She went to NYU film school for a while and got different certifications for the things she needed. It came time to shoot the album cover and I said, “Well, we are home. We can’t really be around anybody. Do you want to take the picture?” So, we went up to the woods and shot the picture. Then it came time to do the video — same kind of thing. It was just me, Georgia, hair/makeup people and our second daughter Kate, who was holding the reflectors and stuff.
Q: Did you know what kind of album you wanted to record right from the start?
A: I knew at some point I wanted to make a gospel album. But had the pandemic not happened, I probably would’ve just, at some point, picked 12 of favorite spiritual tunes and recorded them with a band — like I would normally do. But because this happened, I really had a chance to pick some tunes that I wanted to sing but also wrote some new songs. So, I really didn’t know where it was going. It was just a matter of writing things in real time and thinking about our shared experience and all the pros and cons of going through this kind of thing.
Q: How did you prep for recording these tunes related to your faith? Did you spend time praying or reading the Bible before going into the studio?
A: I don’t really think about things too much before I go into the studio, unless it’s a big orchestral record where I have to write all the charts out. In terms of the performances — no matter what I am feeling, if I am having a good day or a bad day, if I sing “The Old Rugged Cross” I will immediately get into whatever headspace I need to be in for that. But the other songs came as a result of — sometimes I woke up and I doubted my faith. I didn’t doubt the existence of God. But I doubted the strength of my faith. And I wrote about it. Other days, I felt on top of the world and I wrote about that too. And everything in between. But there was no sort of preparation that I did other than being 53 and living my life and being at this point.
Q: There are so many great gospel numbers and faith based tunes. How did you decide on the ones you wanted to sing?
A: To be honest with you, I picked the first ones that popped in my mind. But some of them didn’t pop in my mind. Like “Because He Lives” was one I knew — but I had never really performed it and didn’t think about it. But a friend of mine by the name of J. Harrison Ghee, who is this Broadway performer/drag queen/just all-around brilliant entertainer. He does this thing where he does these Instagram posts where he just sits and talks while he does his makeup. He was singing it one day and I was like, “Oh, man, I’ve got to do that one.” Other ones like “Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art” — those have personal meaning to me, because I have done them onstage and I just love those songs.
Q: I love your rendition of “Be Not Afraid.” In the midst of the coronavirus storm, I’m guessing you found a lot of comfort and assurance in singing the lines “Be not afraid / I go before you always / Come, follow me and I will give you rest.”
A: One hundred percent. You know, I use to sing that song in high school. I went to a Jesuit high school. (Years later) I was driving around and I just Siri’d “Be Not Afraid” and some collaborative effort of that song came up. There was a bunch of people singing it — I don’t even know who it was. I was just listening to it in my car to remind myself of the lyrics to the other verses. And I just wept, especially when it gets to that part about “stand before the power of hell and death is at your side.” That’s heavy stuff. Even if you’re not Christian, the notion of looking at an unclimbable mountain of a challenge is daunting sometimes. And that’s what we were all looking at. I mean, I lost so many friends and family members over the last year. Just to know that — “I go before you. I got you. Be not afraid. I’ll give you rest.” That stuff was emotional to sing.