Anne Murray shares inspiration

Singer: Just when she thought her career was over, `What a Wonderful World' came and changed her mind.

February 27, 2002|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After a career spanning more than three decades and 28 chart singles, Anne Murray was ready to hang it up.

"Most artists over 40 or 50 don't get played on the radio," Murray, 56, says from her Toronto home. "It's a young people's game. I was ready for that. I knew that. I was all ready to gracefully fade into the sunset. Then the inspirational album came out and surprised the heck out of me."

Murray long has been a draw on the concert circuit; she'll appear tomorrow at Joseph Meyerhoff Hall, where she will sing classics including "You Needed Me" and "Danny's Song," and favorites from her 1999 album, What a Wonderful World. But she never anticipated the double-disc set, her 31st album, would become her first platinum-seller in more than a decade.

"People have been after me for a few years to do something inspirational or a gospel album," she says. "Then the record company started to push a bit more in 1997 and '98."

And push. And push.

"I have to tell you, I was reluctant to do this album," she says. "I had to be pulled, kicking and screaming. Originally they wanted me to do an album of hymns, all Baptist, Protestant, Methodist and Presbyterian hymns. And I was raised Catholic."

Eventually, both sides came to terms. The resulting collection blends such age-old hymns as "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art" and "Nearer My God to Thee," with more contemporary covers, from Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," and Bill Withers' "Lean On Me," to Bob Dylan's "I Believe in You" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

Murray thinks the album has reached a new audience for her work. "There are a lot of spiritual people out there," she says. "I didn't know that."

More than that, there are a lot of TV watchers. In part, What a Wonderful World owes its big sales to a steady barrage of TV promotion.

"TV ads let people know you're still around," Murray says. "Not only do they sell albums, they give you a high profile. They let people know you're out there and working."

She says the songs on What a Wonderful World are inspirational in more ways than one. "I think people like the familiar," Murray says.

And with the success of What a Wonderful World, and the What a Wonderful Christmas album that followed last year, there is less urgency to come up with new hits. "That pressure is gone," she says. "Now, I just have to come up with the best album I can."

On her current tour, the song list - and audiences - have changed somewhat since the events of Sept. 11, she says.

"They were very subdued in the beginning," Murray says. "But it's up to you to kind of pull them out of that and make them forget it. The one song I trotted out at first was `A Little Good News'."

Initially, she was apprehensive about singing that song, which mentions fighting in Lebanon. "But it got a standing ovation."

She gauges the audience carefully before including it in her set. "I do it if people ask for it," she says. "It's not exactly an uplifting tune. Besides, I do a lot of ballads. So I have to be careful people don't get too down."

Roger Catlin is the pop music critic for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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