The most exciting news for Anita Baker’s fans these days is the impending release of the Detroit songstress’ new album, her first in six years, this fall.
Baker is geeked about having some new music, too — but, somewhat surprisingly, not as much as her audience.
“I love being on the road — that’s my joy,” explains Baker, 52, who plans to drop “21st Century Love” on Nov. 9. “I’d be content to let the (existing) recordings stand and just continue to reinterpret my catalog and be judged on my live performance. That’s what I’m excited about. Whatever’s wrong with my life, I can dance it out and sing it out with about five to 10,000 people.”
In fact, Baker acknowledges, “I’m nervous and scared about a (new) record all the time, just scared to death.” Why? “Because it’s done and there’s no going back,” she explains. “There’s always something you could have done.
“I listen to (1986’s) ‘Caught Up in the Rapture’ and, even right now, that bridge section just sort of bothers me,” Baker adds with a laugh.
Recording certainly hasn’t been bad for the Toledo-born Baker, who launched her solo career in 1983 after a tenure with the R&B group Chapter 8. She’s released four platinum or better albums, including “Rapture,” which has sold more than 5 million copies, and 1988’s “Giving You the Best That I Got,” which sold more than 3 million and hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Baker has also won eight Grammys and three American Music Awards. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994, and in 2005 she was named International Artist of the Year at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.
Nevertheless, Baker contends, the stage is “where the juice is for me. There’s an electrical current that I get live that I’m addicted to, and I’m always chasing that high — How can I push it a little farther? How can I change the rhythm section? There’s an electrical charge and an interaction with the band that I think most live musicians crave — or, at least speaking for myself, that I crave.”
That’s even more pronounced this year, Baker says, since she’s spent most of it off the road recording “21st Century Love” in Los Angeles and Nashville. “I’ve been in the studio over the summer,” she says, “so the band and I are like, ‘Oh God, I can’t wait to get to the stage. Let’s go!”
That should not imply that Baker gave “21st Century Love” short shrift, however. A typically exacting project for the singer, it follows a loose theme based on Baker’s experience as a single woman in the wake of her 2008 divorce from Walter Bridgforth, the father of her two teenage sons, after nearly 20 years of marriage.
“I’m out here and it’s almost impossible to connect,” Baker explains, “and people are saying, ‘You need to get online. You need to get a dating service.’ I’m like, ‘Are you serious?’ I mean, I don’t even have voice mail, and people get all out of shape about that. But, y’know what, I don’t want to transcribe your message; I want to talk to you.
“And that kind of freaks people out a bit. They go, ‘Oh, who has time to talk?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m gonna make time.’ ”
Baker worked on the album with producers such as Nathan East, Harvey Mason Jr., and the band Four Play, the latter of which teamed with her on a version of the early 1930s love song “You’re My Thrill.” Baker lured actor/singer Tyrese Gibson out of musical semi-retirement to help recreate his 1999 hit “Lately,” but the album’s most surprising song is a rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “Give Me Your Love,” from the 1972 “Superfly” soundtrack, with rapper Snoop Dogg.
“It was very organic,” Baker says. “We met at the NAACP Image Awards and ... I’d run into him at subsequent shows and he’d always say, ‘I hope we can work together sometime and I really admire what you do.’ And I was like, ‘Really? Are you serious?’ I saw no connection, none whatsoever.”
A TV reality show eventually showed Baker another side of Snoop — “I said, ‘You know what? This is a human being,’ and so there was the connection,” she recalls — and the two wound up recording the song on the rapper’s wedding anniversary.
“He came back with this dialogue that just shook us,” says Baker, who wrote a new bridge for the song as well. “It just talks about being a grown man with a grown woman, and it was beautiful and poetic and a really special moment.”
Baker — whose 1986 hit “Sweet Love” was the basis for current star Drake’s “Think Good Thoughts” — is preparing to film videos for some of the album’s songs and is also planning promotion for “21st Century Love,” though she says that, as is her wont, she’ll take the fall off the road and return to the stage for “a couple of choice dates at Christmas.”
That will certainly keep her busy — so much so that Baker, despite being “lonely and single,” doesn’t anticipate pursuing any of those other modes of 21st century love.
“I’ve come to understand that my music, it’s my man. It’s my love,” Baker notes. “It’s what I go to when I’m in need of sanctuary, and all the people who are in it are my friends, and I’m surrounded by amazing men who look after me and take care of me and support me.
“And hopefully I’ll find something to soothe my heart without having to go online. That would be sad.”
Anita Baker performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $49.50 and $35 pavilion, $10 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com
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