Thanks to a 21st century team approach, she brings her smoky vocals to a new set
Much has changed in the four decades since “Midnight Blue” made Melissa Manchester a star and the 10 years since her last studio album When I Look Down That Road. But as she releases her new album, You Gotta Love the Life, there are some things that haven’t changed.
“I really do have the same passion I did when I was 17,” says Manchester. “The good news for me personally is that I have grown into myself, and for an artist, that is a very deep truth to finally access. I think it’s reflected in the tone of my voice, the quality of my songs, and the quality of the artists who wanted to participate in the album.”
Written by Manchester, with the exception of a few covers—“Be My Baby,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and “From This Moment On”—the record attracted a host of A-list guest stars including Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Al Jarreau, Dave Koz and Joe Sample. “Many of the musicians are beloved friends I have worked with over the years,” says Manchester, 64. “I didn’t want this to be a duets album—it really isn’t—but I do have some beautiful guests, and I have history with every one of them. So it was so touching when those folks said yes.”
Manchester’s been busy passing the torch as an adjunct professor at the noted Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in L.A. But the teacher learned a few things from her students that helped launch the new record. “My students would show up with their CDs, and I would ask them how they got them recorded, thinking they were with an independent label,” says Manchester. “They taught me about this funding method called Indiegogo. ‘You should do this,’ they said. So one of my students became my project manager and several others assisted with other things. It was amazing, a new adventure in a new land.”
Despite the modern crowd-funding platform, Manchester was intent on making the album old-school. “I wanted to go back and reclaim that feeling of making an album with great musicians,” she says. “What you’re hearing are real players. We recorded it at a college that had a teaching studio with an engineer who’s a professor. It was incredible—the most exciting experience of my life, really.”
That is quite a claim considering Manchester’s notable accomplishments—being discovered by Barry Manilow and singing backup for Bette Midler, all before landing a record deal and breaking out with the Top 10 hit “Midnight Blue” in 1975. Others followed, including “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “Just You and I” and “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” which won her a Grammy in 1982. Manchester also collaborated with Kenny Loggins to pen his 1978 hit duet with Stevie Nicks, “Whenever I Call You Friend.”
“People yell at me for not making music anymore,” she laughs. “But the way music gets out now represents a sort of democratization of music, because anybody can release a song and post something on YouTube. My platform for music is an album. That’s just what I do, and for me, albums are events. It gives the listener a chance to see what the artist has been up to.
“And it takes a while to put an album together. It doesn’t need to take 10 years, but the truth is this album showed up exactly when it needed to show up. The journey we’ve been on to get this done affirms the fact that there are no accidents. It’s the culmination of all of the millions of steps that got me to this point. The timing was perfect. So now it unfolds, and we’ll see how the world welcomes the work.”