Exclusive: Trisha Yearwood Talks Recording Frank Sinatra Classics, Upcoming Country Album

Photo: Russ Harrington

Twenty-eight years, multiple platinum albums, and nearly 20 Top 10 hits (including five No. 1s) since Trisha Yearwood released her breakthrough 1991 debut “She’s In Love With The Boy,” the singer has proven she possesses a voice enviably capable of drawing out the meaningful nuances of songs from a number of musical genres, from western swing (see “Cowboys Are My Weakness”), power-belting soul numbers (“Wrong Side of Memphis,” “Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love”), to pop balladry (“How Do I Live”).

With her latest project, Let’s Be Frank, Yearwood pairs her timeless voice with a timeless catalog—the songs of Frank Sinatra.

“There’s Frank and then there’s everybody else,” Yearwood tells MusicRow Magazine. “I think that’s because his style is so conversational. He really did wrap himself in the lyric, and that’s something that made me able to relate to him. I have always approached songs like they are poems or a mini-movie that you are in for three and a half minutes. I study the lyrics because how you read a lyric affects how you sing it. We have that in common as far as really reading a lyric and throwing yourself into the story. I’ve had a lot of fun in my career in the studio, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun than that. “

Let’s Be Frank marks Yearwood’s first solo collection since 2007’s Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love (she collaborated with husband Garth Brooks on the holiday project Christmas Together in 2016).

In the interim, Yearwood has become a multi-media star, with three best-selling cookbooks, Food Network cooking show Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, a home décor line, and a cooking line with Williams Sonoma, an exclusive partnership through which Let’s Be Frank was initially released in December. On Friday (Feb. 15), the album was released on all music platforms.

However, Yearwood says the idea for a standards album has been 20 years in the making.

“I kept telling myself, ‘Well, I’m making a country record,’ or ‘I’m doing the cooking show.’ I put it on the back burner, thinking I could do it anytime. And now, I think what it really was, was as long as I didn’t do it, I couldn’t fail at it.”

That hesitancy changed after Yearwood took part in Sinatra 100: An All-Star Grammy Concert in 2015, where she honored the late Chairman of the Board with a rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Grammy-winning producer and musician Don Was led the house band for the show, and notably used the original arrangements written for Sinatra in the show.

“Don was the one who asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about doing an album of all these songs?’ It just felt like the timing was right.”

Yearwood’s fellow collaborators on Let’s Be Frank included composer/arranger Vince Mendoza, as well as engineer/producer Al Schmitt, who has earned more than 20 Grammy awards, and worked with Sinatra on albums including Duets and Duets II.

Let’s Be Frank was recorded live with a 55-person orchestra at the Capitol Recording Studio at Capitol Tower in Hollywood, the same studio Sinatra recorded so many of his own hits. Yearwood’s vocals were recorded with the same microphone Sinatra used.

“Capitol is one of the most historic studios in the world and I just assumed the Frank microphone and the barstool that Frank sat on that are in all these photographs would be under glass somewhere,” Yearwood says. “But this is a working studio and they use this stuff. I was floored that they would have these things out and be using them, but it helped the vibe of being in the studio. You are sitting with an engineer that worked with Frank Sinatra. He’s sat behind that board before when Frank was singing. There’s a responsibility and an aura of Frank when you walk in that room.”

Yearwood was more than ready for the challenge. Prior to heading into the studio, Yearwood handed Was and Schmitt a list of 100 of her favorite Sinatra songs.

“Don sat me down in the first meeting we had in person and said, ‘If you had to write down 12 of these songs right now to record, just don’t even think about it, just write them down.’ And that list ended up making about 99 percent of the record.”

The four days of recording at Capitol Studio began with Sinatra’s classic “All The Way.”

“When you’re singing with 55 musicians, you don’t want to be the person who is not prepared and doesn’t know where to come in, because if you screw up with 55 people and have to start over, it’s a little different than with five people,” she says, comparing the process of making Let’s Be Frank to her own country albums. “Once I got that first song down, then I was good. But to let that rawness and that vulnerability come out and stay on the record, that’s one of the things that makes it special because we recorded it live. I went back and fixed a couple of notes here and there, but it really was live.”

Though Yearwood has long included in her live shows a version of the Judy Garland classic “Over The Rainbow” (a song Sinatra would cover on Songs By Sinatra), Mendoza introduced her to one of the song’s lesser-known verses.

“He brought me the verse that is sung before the lyric that we all know,” she says. “I didn’t know that earlier lyric. Judy sang it one time on a radio show, so it’s not a popular thing that a lot of people know. It’s this beautiful melody that sets up the song, and then he brings the melody back in in his arrangement in the end. He was just as much a part of making these songs sound good as anybody in the room.”

As much as Let’s Be Frank is a tribute to one of music’s most iconic singers and musical interpreters, it also serves as a creative way of reconnecting with memories of the music her mother Gwen listened to when Yearwood was a child.

“My mom was a big musical and movie buff. One of my favorite things to do with her was sit and watch movies together and listen to those songs. I was watching movies that were made in the ‘40s and ‘50s, but this was the ‘70s. The sentimental thing is my mom and dad are both gone, but that was something I shared with her, so that was something important to me and it made me feel connected to her to get to do this.”

Trisha Yearwood records at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. Photo: Becky Fluke

The album also includes the lush original track “For The Last Time”—a rare Yearwood co-write, penned with Garth Brooks.

“I don’t call myself a writer and I came up with a title—for the first time I’m in love for the last time—and I just think that about [her relationship with Brooks] and I didn’t know what to do with that line. He showed me why he’s in all the hall of fames—he started singing this melody that is from another era and we just wrote it without having a plan at all for it, but I ended up playing it for Don. I never intended to have an original song on the album, but this is kind of in that vein. While I would never put myself up against these iconic writers, it was nice to have something that it didn’t feel weird to play that song in the collection of these other songs.”

Fans longing for fresh country material from this multi-talented creator can expect a new album to release in the fall.

“Everything is recorded, we are just doing that last checklist of things like adding harmonies and things are almost ready to mix.” Yearwood’s says of the album’s status. “I’m already chomping at the bit to release this country album. It definitely reminded me that as much as I love all the things that I get to do that are entertainment-related–I don’t do anything I don’t love—but music feeds my soul. I’m not going to let that much time pass before I make another record because it’s something that brings me so much fulfillment. It’s something I need to do for myself but hopefully other people will like it.”

As for the songs on Yearwood’s list of favorite Sinatra selections that did not make the album, there’s a chance they could be recorded down the road.

“I hope that I get a chance to do another album, because there were a lot of songs that I would like to do. The quality of songs from that time is so stellar. “

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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