Cyndi Lauper gets country cool with latest album ‘Detour’

Lauper talks her country curveball.
Chapman Baehler
Annie Zaleski

Earlier this year, pop chameleon Cyndi Lauper released Detour, a collection of country and rockabilly standards indebted to the greats—Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Brenda Lee and Wanda Jackson, to name a few—with guests including Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Jewel. In a phone interview, Lauper explained why her country curveballs worked so well.

On how she found her footing with Detour’s musicians: “[We recorded the song] ‘The End of the World,’ where I wanted them to use the Prophet [keyboard] sound. I thought it was a transparent sound that would eat up a lot of room on the track, but had that round sound, like in ‘Time After Time.’ So if I made a round sound with my voice, I’d stay connected to that organ as we moved through the song together. All of a sudden it wasn’t just, ‘Let’s cut these songs and go.’ It was good. We realized, ‘That’s the bar, nothing below that.’ If we did a song and it sucked and never came to life, we let it go. It had to have a real magic to it, and the magic came from the connection. A connection to each other and the singer, and that’s what made this thing come alive. And I think it came out good. It’s a happy record. It makes people happy.”

On her rockabilly roots: “We did ‘Funnel of Love,’ and that turned out to be really easy-peasy for me, because I wanted it to be kind of rockabilly. When I was singing it, I realized I’d been down that road before. I was in a rockabilly band, Blue Angel. So I just started to connect with the [musicians]. I heard little things the drummer was doing. So I do what I do: call and response.”

On “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”: Jewel did the yodel. They told me Peter Gabriel learned how to yodel in three lessons, but it’s not [easy]. Yodeling is kind of like scatting—you don’t just learn your syllables and everything just like that. … I saw an interview with Jewel, and she was talking about how her father taught her to yodel when she was a little kid, and all of a sudden it hit me: ‘It’s gotta be Jewel.’ Because it’s unexpected. She’s brilliant at it, and it’s kind of funny [in the song] when you say, ‘Take it, Jewel,’ ’cause it’s out of nowhere.”

On how Detour’s songs fit with the rest of her catalog in concert: “My surprise was, when I put the setlist together, how well everything went together. I fooled around with ‘She Bop’ a little, because I figured, ‘What the hell. You’re gonna get a little bent out of shape about a song about that because I changed it a little?’ (laughs)”

On her dream future collaboration: “I’m a big fan of Dolly Parton. Watching her play all those instruments with her long nails, I’m always thinking, ‘Oh, my God, no.’ Because I play everything like a gorilla.”

Cyndi Lauper with Operator EMZ. October 8, 7 p.m., $43-$179. The Joint, 702-693-5222.

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