Harry Connick Jr.’s two most recent vocal releases couldn’t be more different from each other.
The singer, pianist and actor released the limited-edition “Smokey Mary” in February, an upbeat album of Mardi Gras-inspired party music in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Krewe of Orpheus, the New Orleans Mardi Gras group that Connick co-founded.
June saw the wide release of “Every Man Should Know,” Connick’s official studio follow-up to his 2009 collaboration with Clive Davis, “Your Songs.”
Harry Connick Jr.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass.
HOW MUCH: $99.50-$29.50
MORE INFO: 888-266-1200, www.bso.org
The album’s 12 songs find Connick in a deeply personal mood, addressing topics ranging from his late mother on “The Greatest Love Story,” to his own philosophy on love on the title track.
But the two albums are connected despite their differences in style and subject matter. Connick wrote and recorded all the songs at the same sessions.
“I didn’t write them separately. All of these songs were actually supposed to be on one record, but the label [Columbia Records] thought it was best to release them separately,” he said recently, while on vacation in Cape Cod.
No rhyme or reason
“I’ll start to write a lyric, and it will worm its way around until it becomes a song — I don’t really plan on what that song is going to be, but if it’s a particularly difficult emotional song, that doesn’t mean the next song I write isn’t some silly funk or R&B tune. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
Indeed, he doesn’t like to dwell much at all on what inspired the more personal elements of “Every Man Should Know.”
“I’m kind of unromantic with regards to inspiration — I go into the studio when it’s time to make a record,” he said. “If it was up to me I’d be recording all the time, but records are things that have to be set up and marketed — you can’t just record all the time, OK. [I record] when my manager says it’s time to do another record. Why some of them are more personal than not, I’m not really sure. It felt like a natural thing to do at the time.”
The emotions come out when Connick sings the songs live, however.
“It just depends on the night; it depends on all the variables that go into a show,” he said. “Sometimes I can get through an emotional number relatively unscathed, but sometimes it’s just a beast to get through them. It’s funny how it works. I’m always committed to what I’m singing, but sometimes it seems to hit me a little bit harder than other times.”
The triple-threat performer — his acting roles include films such as “Independence Day” and appearances on TV shows “Will & Grace” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”; he’s also released numerous instrumental albums including his “Connick on Piano” series — will be at Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed on Saturday night, performing songs from both of his new records.
Whole bunch of stuff
“It’s just kind of a little bit of everything really — a really big mixture,” he said. “I think they [audiences] like it; it’s hard to say. I kind of judge the reaction at the end of the show, and people seem to dig it, man. Again, I never really know what people are thinking, and we throw a whole bunch of stuff at them, which is cool.”
Both “Smokey Mary” and “Every Man Should Know” represent the culmination of two years of work for Connick and his band. The recordings took place in studios throughout the U.S., including his native New Orleans, and sessions in Nashville that brought out a country vibe on a number of songs on “Every Man Should Know.” Guest appearances included Branford Marsalis (“Let Me Stay”) and Wynton Marsalis (“Being Alone”).
“I worked with so many different musicians in so many places — a lot of times I would record the musicians in Nashville, then put strings on it in L.A., then put something on in New Orleans,” Connick said. “It was all over the place, really.”
In addition to the albums, he also just released a single via iTunes, “Love Wins,” in memory of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, daughter of former Connick Big Band saxophonist Jimmy Greene and a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December. All proceeds from the single will go to the Ana Grace Fund to help Marquez-Greene’s family.
“I felt the least I could do was to try to direct some attention and money [Greene’s] way, so I wrote a tune that went up on iTunes,” Connick said.
“All the money raised for it is going to him and his family, to help him cope through this time. It’s difficult for anybody even to work, so it’s just a gesture on my part to try to help a friend out.”
Off the road
After the Tanglewood show and another in Atlantic City the next day, Connick will be off the road until October. During the interim between tours, he’ll start shooting the sequel to 2011’s family film “Dolphin Tale,” which he also starred in.
Connick is also set to star in the Christmas film “Angels Sing,” due out during the holiday season. He wasn’t the only musician on set during filming — Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Kris Kristofferson also appear in the film.
“It was great, man — they’re real cool guys; they show up to work like everybody else, they’re professional, they learn their lines,” Connick said.
“It was great hanging out with them. Those people really are legends, so to be able to spend time with them and pick their brains is pretty luxurious.”