Throughout her two decades as a recording star, Linda Eder has garnered acclaim and healthy sales crooning and belting theatrical evergreens. “For most of my career, I was known for big Broadway tunes and ballads and standards and big-band kind of stuff,” the artist says. “But my tastes have always been very varied. My fans probably think I drive around listening to Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland all the time.”
On The Other Side of Me, her 2008 debut for Verve, Eder revealed an affinity for country-pop and blues-suffused rock. Perhaps her most ambitious set, the album also included wistful, graceful covers of classics by Joni Mitchell and the Indigo Girls. But for her sophomore Verve effort, the aptly titled Soundtrack, Eder goes to the movies.She adds new dimensions to an eclectic mix of themes from the silver screen.
“Making the first album for Verve was a major, major departure for me,” Eder says. “This is sort of a middle ground between that album and what the fans know me for.” The 12 tracks span roughly the last 50 years in cinema, from Mancini’s “Charade,” the title tune of the 1963 movie starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, to “Falling Slowly,” the Academy Award winner from Once, the 2007 Irish musical film.
“Aside from doing a tribute album to Judy Garland, I hadn’t had a themed record,” Eder says. “We kicked around different ideas. And I chose movie themes because I could think right off the top of my head different songs I could do.” Song selection was easy for the artist. She concentrated on familiar tunes that struck an immediate emotional chord with her.
“It comes to your mind pretty quickly the ones that have always been favorites, like ‘Everything I Do’ [the Bryan Adams smash from 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves] and ‘Against All Odds’ [the Phil Collins classic from the 1984 film of the same name],” Eder says. “They have always been favorites of mine.” “Help!,” the 1965 Beatles cut was a particularly special choice: “Well, I wanted to do something from the Beatles, because I love the Beatles and because my 9-year-old son has been a Beatles fan since he was three,” Eder says.
The originals may be familiar and beloved, but Eder and her band dramatically reworked the arrangements, rendering the songs in an intimate, fireside style. “We did most of the music in a jazzy pop version, which really worked for me. We wanted to find arrangements that were a little different and worked for my voice,” she says. “I’ve been singing for a long time, so you get an idea of what your strengths are. When I hear a song, I tend to sing it if an idea of how to do it comes to me quickly. If I’m surfing around for an idea and can’t really hear it – well, it’s a lot better if it’s all organic.”
Other highlights include an aching version Yvonne Elliman’s 1977 disco hit “If I Can’t Have You,” from Saturday Night Fever and a faithful rendition of “Valley of the Dolls,” the theme of the 1968 flick that Dionne Warwick turned into a No. 2 pop hit.
The recording process for Soundtrack was unlike Eder’s previous albums.
“We rehearsed with my band and came up with arrangements a few weeks before we actually started working on the album,” Eder says. “We went up to Woodstock and had basically a rhythm section. It was drums, bass, two guitars and piano and the producer and I.
We sat around Dreamland Studios – which is a cool place; it used to be an old church – and just played. The band would start with a tempo idea and I would start singing and we would adapt it. It was a cool way to work in those four days,” she says. “We took the weekend off and came back and tracked it live. Most of the vocals are one take, live with the band.”
Eder excels in such a laidback setting. Although on previous albums she often pushed her voice over sweeping orchestrations and dazzling big bands, Eder began her career singing in a largely unadorned style. “Most of my career, I’ve been singing live. I started out singing in clubs with just a guy who played keyboards,” the artist says. “So I’m used to that. The kind of music that I sing – if it’s a strong song it can stand on its own, even if you’re playing it with a kazoo. It felt good to record in that scaled-back style.”
Eder knew she wanted to pursue music early on while growing up in Brainerd, Minnesota. She was first inspired by Judy Garland’s legendary performance of “Over the Rainbow.” At 16, she won a local beauty pageant in which she sang an original song. Not long afterward, she made her professional singing debut in 1981 at a Holiday Inn in her hometown. After graduation, Eder and her pianist, high-school friend Paul Todd, started touring nationally, performing in clubs, cabarets and cocktail lounges.
Eder’s big break came in 1988 when she successfully auditioned for Star Search, the American Idol of its day. She went on to win the competition 12 weeks in a row. The exposure led to a meeting with Frank Wildhorn, co-writer of the Whitney Houston smash “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” At the time, he was working on a musical adaptation of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Eder joined the production, which opened in 1990. The next year, she recorded her self-titled debut for RCA.
As Eder established herself as a force in the world of musical theatre and Broadway, she continued to record well-received albums, including 1994’s And So Much More and 1997’s It’s Time. She made a tentative break from show tunes on 2002’s Gold, where she covered pop gems by the Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Boz Scaggs and others.
But after signing with Verve, Eder has pushed her artistry in bolder directions. The Other Side of Me may have been a bit jarring for fans used to her Barbra Streisand-like rendering of traditional tunes. But she meets them halfway with Soundtrack.
“It was fun to do,” Eder says. “These familiar songs are just a little different this time.”