oleta adams at piano

*One of the hallmarks of Oleta Adams’ 45 year career has been the authenticity she brings to any and every lyric.

Whether it’s the yearning behind her 1990 breakout hit “Get Here,” her incendiary cover of Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind”, or the joy that runs through her 2006 holiday collection Christmas Time With Oleta, Adams’ listeners never have had to wonder whether the artist is feeling what she’s singing.

Fans may be surprised to hear that there was a time when Adams felt pressured to sing what her audience wanted to hear, rather than what was in her heart.

“Mostly I did hotel gigs,” Adams remembers of the days before she became a household name. “They were usually big hotels that had conventions coming in — funeral directors, insurance people, medical people, professional athletes, all sorts of people.”

“How do you keep an audience that doesn’t know what you do? You have to perform the songs they’re familiar with, and that’s the top of the charts on the radio — whether you’re feeling those songs or not.”

Adams, 63 recalls that early stage in her career when she dedicated her performances’ third set to songs that she wanted to do, with less pressure on what was expected of her. That same freedom — to sing the songs she wants to sing — is behind her phenomenal new album, aptly entitled Third Set.

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The new album features Adams’ unique takes on standards like Frank Sinatra’s “Only The Lonely,” Cole Porter’s “It’s Alright With Me,” Joni Mitchell’s “River,” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.”

With a track list like that, this is undoubtedly a special project for Adams.

“At this point in my life it’s kind of cool that I don’t have to ask anybody’s permission anymore about what I want to sing,” Adams said. “There are certain times in your life when it’s just right to do something, and it doesn’t make sense, and you throw caution to the wind. The decision to do this album was just like that.”

There’s an accessibility to Third Set that’s rare, particularly in today’s music marketplace. One gets the feeling that Adams recorded the entire project during a single late night jam session with her band.

While lesser talents have spent entire careers without delivering a project as good as Third Set, Adams and her band recorded the new album in just two and a half days.

Read more of Michael P. Coleman’s reflections at EURThisNthat.