Her first hit, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Don’t Make Me Over,” came out on Scepter Records in 1962, and marked the beginning of one of the great vocal careers, not to mention singer-songwriters collaborations, in pop music history.
And now Dionne Warwick is back with her appropriately titled first album in five years, She’s Back, to be released May 10 on Bright Music Records.
“It’s a case of people stopping me on the street or at airports and asking me when I’m going to make another record,” says Warwick. “When you get enough of that kind of interest, it’s time to get back in the studio!”
Get back she did, for an album that’s her first decidedly R&B/soul album in the 50 years since 1969’s Scepter release Soulful--the first of her albums for the label that didn’t directly involve Bacharach and David in both songwriter and producer roles. Rather, it was produced by Warwick and renowned Memphis producer/songwriter Chips Moman (who had produced fellow Scepter recording artist B.J. Thomas) in an effort to showcase her vocal strengths outside her immensely successful Bacharach-David pop vein, and yielded the Top 20 hit cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”
“It’s amazing how people decide to put someone in a little box—and I kind of defy that,” says Warwick, rejecting the confines of single music genre categorization. “I feel that I’m not capable of being categorized: There are too many genres of music that I like and sing, and I feel that music is music--whatever genre you may think it is. The listening ear decides that.”
So, too, in this instance, did her producer—who happens to be her son Damon Elliott.
“My producer decided this is what he wanted to do, so I said okay!” she proudly says of Elliott, who also owns Bright Music Records. “I recorded with him before—on the last CD [2014’s Feels So Good, also on Bright Music]--and I think he’s pretty great himself and has honed his craft over the years. I felt very confident in his ability, and working with your son is always a joy. I followed his lead as I would anyone who was producer—the only difference being the fact he called me mommy! But the beauty of working with him is that he takes his craft very seriously--which I’m thrilled about—and doesn’t let me sneak anything past him.”
Adding to the joy of recording She’s Back was “the opportunity to sing with a couple people I hadn’t done anything with before,” says Warwick, pointing to duets with Kenny Latimore (“What Color Is Love”) as well as Musiq Soulchild (“Am I Dreaming”). The album, her 36th full-length studio recording, is being released in partnership with distribution company Entertainment One and features both new songs and remakes of pop-soul gems, among them, first single “What the World Needs Now is Love,” the Bacharach-David classic that was a No. 7 hit for Jackie DeShannon in 1965—and which Warwick had twice recorded previously.
“It’s so needed now,” she explains. “It’s such a crazy time, not only here but for the entire world. I want to again put to heart those incredible words and feelings that Hal David wrote: We do need love. The whole world needs it—right now!”
Of David, who died in 2012, Warwick says, “I always refer to him as poet--not just lyricist, because if not for his lyrics, we’d all just be humming Burt’s songs. And he was so prolific!”
She recalls one occasion where she was “completely out of voice and couldn’t sing a note.”
“I apologized to the audience for having a terrible case of hoarseness, and said I’d like to read Hal’s lyrics while the music was playing. After the show I got more compliments from people who never realized that his body of work stood up as poetry.”
Warwick, who at last month’s Grammy Awards received the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award, appears in the What the World Needs Now: Words by Hal David musical tribute currently being shown on PBS stations.
“I’m so happy that people are getting the opportunity to know who this man was--as well they should,” she says. Looking back at the remarkable Bacharach-David-Warwick composing-producing-singing triumvirate, she explains why the recordings they made way back when still resonate today.
“They all were able to grow with people—every single song,” says Warwick, using a 1964 hit as an example.
“`Walk On By’ means something different when you’re 30 than it did when you were 16. Each song has the opportunity to serve a purpose at whatever period of your life you’re in at the time.”
She concludes: “I was truly blessed when Burt and Hal entered my life.”
As, of course, were they.