Michael Feinstein’s Latest Album ‘Gershwin Country’ Releases This March
Fans of Grammy- and Emmy-nominated entertainer Michael Feinstein and of George and Ira Gershwin will be elated that Feinstein’s latest album, “Gershwin Country,” will be officially released on March 11, 2022! This exceptional collection of Gershwin songs—reimagined— is executive produced by Feinstein’s longtime friend and collaborator Liza Minnelli and will also delight country music fans as the album boasts an all-star lineup of some of country music’s greatest stars, such as Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley, Lyle Lovett, Rosanne Cash and many others.
The Story Behind the Album
George Gershwin (1898–1937) not only composed some of the 20th century’s most important orchestral works (“Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris”), he also wrote the groundbreaking English-language opera “Porgy & Bess” (including the hit “Summertime”) before finding great success in popular music, collaborating with his brother, lyricist Ira Gershwin (1896–1983).
Together, the brothers would go on to write some of the most influential songs of the era, forever changing the landscape of American musical theater. In 1924, the brothers collaborated on the stage musical comedy “Lady Be Good” (“Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh, Lady Be Good!”) followed by “Oh, Kay!,” “Funny Face” (1927) and “Strike Up the Band” (1927). Later, with the rise of musical films, the Gershwins brought their talents to Hollywood—writing more than two dozen scores for the stage and screen before George’s untimely death at 38.
Gershwin’s influence on Feinstein cannot be overstated. “As a person who became besotted with [George] Gershwin long ago, I cannot be objective of his work, nor of his brother Ira’s, for it all goes too deep into my soul,” says the singer and pianist. “From the time I first heard them decades ago, the songs have felt personal, and as I have sung them through the years, they have become multifaceted diamonds, revealing new angles of truth and depth with every exploration.”
At 20, Feinstein began a six-year tenure with Ira, serving as his assistant and archivist, among other roles. That pivotal experience informed the musician’s career—inspiring his broadly acclaimed 1987 debut, “Pure Gershwin,” and encouraging him to become the preeminent educator, archivist, interpreter and ambassador of the Great American Songbook.
As an extension of his work, Feinstein founded the Great American Songbook Foundation, which works to preserve and elevate America’s rich musical legacy. He also serves on the Library of Congress’s National Recording Preservation Board, an organization dedicated to ensuring the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America’s sound recording heritage.
When asked how “Gershwin Country” came to be realized, Feinstein said, “A lot of things happen artistically because of instinct for me. And in the case of this recording, it really was just an idea that sprouted as one of many. When I was trying to decide what I wanted my next recording project to be, the idea came to take Gershwin’s songs and reinterpret them in a country mode. Part of that idea certainly came from my friendship with Maya Angelou and visit with her in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was a huge fan of country music, which might surprise people that don’t know a lot about her musical tastes, which were incredibly eclectic.”
Feinstein continued, “It was there that I really focused in on the thought that the greatest interpreters of lyrics, the best storytellers of popular music are country singers. The idea then came to take Gershwin’s songs and recast them in a way that could conceivably have interest for a different or a larger audience, and that’s the genesis of the album.”
The Collaboration Process
Feinstein explained that initially setting the album lineup and pairing the artists with the tracks on this particular album was equivalent to putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
“Not being sure if I had all the pieces, it certainly was challenging casting the album song-wise,” Feinstein shared. “I started by making lists of voices that I adore and ones that I thought might be interesting for these songs. The first people I thought of were Alison Krauss, Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton.”
From that point, Feinstein sought out the best talents in the genre, including his venerable co-producer Kyle Lehning, who has helmed projects for Kenny Rogers, Faith Hill and Randy Travis, among many others. Lehning, in turn, assembled some of Nashville’s most esteemed musicians to back the sessions, including Bryan Sutton (acoustic guitar, mandolin), Steve Brewster (drums), Viktor Krauss (bass) and Kerry Marx (electric guitar).
Feinstein added, “Once Kyle was on board, the project was a true reality, and it was with his help that I was able to contact the rest of the performers who ultimately appear on the album. And I don’t want to forget that Liza [Minnelli] became the executive producer of the album because when I was talking to her about [the album] she offered to help. She was amazing in how she went through the songs and had different ideas about how they should be interpreted.”
Feinstein shared that his friend Liza not only grew up with Gershwin’s songs but her famed director father, Vincente Minnelli, was very close to the Gershwin brothers. The renowned director was not only close friends with both George and Ira but also chose the younger Gershwin brother to be Liza’s godfather. “Gershwin Country” closes with a poignant duet of “Embraceable You” by Feinstein and Liza Minnelli.
“Liza had the perspective and understanding of the songs that made it perfect for her to be artistically involved,” Feinstein stated. “So, all of those elements brought ‘Gershwin Country’ together. Every single one of these cuts on the record has a very specific musical road map or routine where I am singing in harmony with the singers and we’re doing something purposeful that gives the song a reason for being sung as a duet.”
The process of pairing the artists with the songs on “Gershwin Country” was truly a collaborative effort.
“Some of the artists didn’t know Gershwin, and that’s understandable because there’s a lot of country music that I don’t know,” Feinstein humbly shared. “Some of the artists said ‘Yes’ because they know my work and wanted to sing with me. Some made suggestions of which songs they wanted to sing, and others left it to me to choose the songs. In most cases, the artists asked me to suggest the songs. Half the songs were recorded in person with the duet partners and the other half were done virtually because of the pandemic, but there was close input with everyone. It was the subtlety of interpretation that made it so delicious for both of us going back and saying, ‘Let’s try this phrase this way,’ or ‘Let’s change the key here,’ or ‘Let’s go up a step or do a vocal flourish.’ It was the most gratifying experience to come up with an idea and immediately have these genius musicians say, ‘Oh, you mean like this?’ and just play it!”
A Renewed Appreciation for the Gershwins and the Arts in General
This latest musical masterpiece created by Feinstein and his fellow collaborators not only introduces the iconic music of the Gershwin brothers to an entire new genre of music, the album also exposes a larger demographic and younger generations to the best of a bygone musical era. As the ambassador of the Great American Songbook, Feinstein is excited about the exposure and about bringing the Gershwin name front and center of today’s mainstream music scene via the country music genre.
“I think most artists would agree that the pandemic has made the appreciation for music and the arts, greater,” Feinstein expressed. “It has given us a deeper understanding of how art unifies people in a way that is beyond words. It gives us a feeling of hope, optimism and belief that there is a greater force at hand to help us. To have the opportunity to make a recording through this time was not only purposeful, but it bonded me with various artists in different ways. It gave us an opening to talk about our spiritual beliefs and what music means to us. Music is a sacred thing. Even a simple 32-bar popular song has the power to transform in a way that none of us will ever take for granted again.”
Mark Your Calendars!
Available for preorder now on CD and digital, “Gershwin Country” hits stores March 11—with a portion of all proceeds benefitting MusiCares, a partner of the Recording Academy that provides a support system of health and human services across a spectrum of needs, including physical and mental health, addiction recovery, preventative clinics, unforeseen personal emergencies and disaster relief to the music community.
And kicking off early 2022, Feinstein will also honor Liza’s mother, Judy Garland, with a tour devoted to the beloved star on her centennial. For more album presale information and a full list of tour dates, visit MichaelFeinstein.com.
“It is my hope and intention to bring this tour to Carmel,” Feinstein said. “I’m proud of what we’ve put together, and I can certainly visualize it easily at the Palladium [in Carmel] with the large screen projections of Liza’s family photographs and home videos that complement the musical portion of the program. So, I hope very much to bring it locally, and if not locally, it will certainly be somewhere nearby.”
Tickets are already on sale at thecenterpresents.org for Feinstein’s upcoming performance at the Center for the Performing Arts with guest artist Sandi Patty on May 7, 2022.