"I grew up," Lucy Woodward says of Hooked!, her third album and her Verve Records debut. "As you get older and make more music, you gain a better understanding of who you are and what you need to feel satisfied. That's what this record is for me."
The 12-song album's emotional depth, organic musicality and personally-charged songcraft will come as a revelation to listeners who are only familiar with Woodward via her 2003 pop hit "Dumb Girls." Seamlessly drawing from a deep well of jazz and pop influences, Hooked! marks Woodward as an effortlessly engaging, deeply expressive vocalist, an insightful, disarmingly witty songwriter, and distinctive, charismatic interpreter of outside material.
Woodward's formidable songwriting talents animate the slyly swinging "He Got Away," the bittersweet breakup song "Purple Heart," the liltingly blue "Slow Recovery" and the playfully humorous "Too Much To Live For." Another highlight is the breezily elegant "Another Woman," especially written for Lucy by admirer Nellie McKay, who lends her harmony vocals to the track. Woodward's interpretive gifts are also showcased on her hauntingly seductive reading of the obscure Peggy Lee number "Sans Souci," her poignant take on Hoagy Carmichael's 1930s pop standard "Stardust," and a rousing rendition of "I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)," originally sung by Louis Prima in Disney's The Jungle Book, and a tune that Woodward has been singing since her teens.
"I wanted to make a modern-day torch record, but I didn't want to do a record of all standards, because I had stuff I wanted to say," says Woodward, adding, "This is the first time I've made a record where I didn't write or co-write all of the songs. At first I was resistant to the idea of doing covers, but then I fell in love with the process of taking a song and trying to make it my own. And I could never write a song like 'I Wan'na Be Like You' or 'Stardust' or 'Sans Souci,' so why limit myself?"
Woodward recorded the bulk of Hooked! with legendary producer Tony Visconti, best known for his seminal work with David Bowie and T. Rex. Visconti also plays guitar, bass, ukulele, autoharp and various other instruments on the album, as well as providing string and horn arrangements. Additional tracks on Hooked! were produced by Justin Stanley (Nikka Costa, Eric Clapton) and longtime Woodward collaborators Tim K. (Les Nubians, Colette, Esthero) and Itaal Shur (Groove Collective, Santana).
Hooked! features inventive arrangements that incorporate an adventurous array of instrumental textures while keeping the focus firmly on Woodward's voice. "There's not a lot of bells and whistles on this record, and everything was recorded straight-up live," Woodward notes. "What I miss in a lot of music these days is the actual breath that lets a singer act and dance through their voice. There is so much musicality in that, but a lot of music now is so processed that that is gone. So I wanted to allow space for breath on this record, which I'd never really done before quite this way."
Hooked! is both a dynamic creative evolution and a compelling return to Woodward's musical roots. The child of a composer/conductor father and an opera singer/musicologist/teacher/belly dancer mother, Lucy was born in London and spent part of her early childhood in Amsterdam, before moving with her parents to New York at the age of five. Growing up in the cultural melting pot of the Bronx, she absorbed a range of musical styles, from salsa to house music.
In her teens, Lucy studied voice, piano and flute, and began writing her own songs. At 16, she was accepted to the Manhattan School of Music to study jazz, but opted instead to focus on honing her songwriting and performing skills. She spent the next few years paying her dues by singing with cover bands and wedding combos, working as a session singer, and waiting tables and singing jazz standards in Greenwich Village restaurants.
"When I was 19, I became obsessive about learning jazz standards," she recalls. "I would lock myself away for hours and hours, learning the vocabulary of this style, studying different singers' vocal techniques, writing out the lyrics by hand and copping the riffs. That was my job for a year; I waited tables and learned songs. After that, I met a bunch of pop writers and that felt good, so I followed that and started writing pop-rock songs."
Woodward's talents won her a deal with Atlantic Records, resulting in her well-received 2003 debut album While You Can, which spawned the infectious hit "Dumb Girls." That early success led to a year of international touring, including a spot on The Tonight Show. Although her efforts won her mainstream notoriety, making slick, radio-ready pop and sharing bills with lip-synching teen acts proved artistically unsatisfying for Woodward.
"I got propelled into that whole 14-year-old pop world, and it didn't feel like me anymore," she explains. "It was fun and I'm grateful for that experience, and I have no regrets. But it got to the point where I realized that it didn't feel right."
A crucial turning point arrived when Woodward was asked to record a big-band version of "It's Oh So Quiet"—originally recorded in 1948 by Betty Hutton and subsequently popularized by Bjork—for the Disney film Ice Princess. According to Woodward, that experience reconnected her with her musical roots and set her back on a more personal creative path.
"That was the turning point for me," she says. "It felt so organic and so right, and I felt so connected singing it. I realized that this is the music I should be making."
Inspired by the experience, Woodward began a remarkable musical reinvention on 2008's independently released Lucy Woodward Is... Hot and Bothered, a transitional effort that incorporated R&B grooves and electronic beats, while mining the deep-rooted jazz influences that sparked the musical rebirth that's manifested on Hooked!. And the critics took notice. USA Today called Lucy “A steamy, string-kissed slice of retro British pop by a versatile singer/songwriter,” while Billboard raved, “Lucy's a ball, equally appreciable for fans of melodic sing-along baubles and highbrow aficionados of finely honed musical composition. A sonic turnstile that flips through dreamy pop, jazz and bluesy bebop.”
In addition to working on her own albums, Woodward has also kept busy with a variety of extracurricular activities. Her song "There's Gotta Be More To Life" earned her a BMI Songwriter's Award, and she's contributed songs to several film soundtracks, including the recent Sandra Bullock Oscar-winning The Blind Side. She also guested on American Idol judge and noted producer Randy Jackson's 2008 album Randy Jackson's Music Club, Volume 1. She's also devoted considerable energy to several charitable projects, making multiple trips to Africa on behalf of relief organizations, singing for Bishop Desmond Tutu at a benefit for his foundation in Dallas and performing with Carole King at another benefit in New York.
Recently relocated from her longtime home of New York to Los Angeles, Lucy Woodward is feeling excited and energized by her current musical rebirth. "I still have a lot of old fans who've stuck with me since my first album," she says, "so it'll be interesting to see how they react to Hooked!. I can't really second-guess that, but I do know that this record represents the real me. Artists always say that about their new record, but in this case it's really true!" Lucy says, laughing.