When legendary artists discuss their latest recordings, they often claim it’s their best work to drum up interest from longtime fans who cherish the classics. Yet when Rita Coolidge states that that Safe in the Arms of Time, her new album on indie label Blue Elan Records, is “the best record I’ve ever done,” her assessment comes from a place of honest reflection in fulfilling her goal “to make a roots record about my own roots.” One listen through these 12 fresh tracks—including the lead single and video “Walking on Water” (featuring Keb’ Mo’)—reveals the kind of organic, bluesy earthiness the singer brought to her 1971 self-titled debut, and very different from the polished pop vibe she became known for with her string of hits.
“To me, ‘Walking on Water’ is about the impermanence of everything, trying to realize what is important in life, and loving each other,” says Coolidge, who co-wrote the song with Keb’ Mo’ and Jill Colucci. “It was written before the 2016 election, and now of course, with there officially being no such thing as the truth, the lyrics resonate in a different way. My interest in doing this project began with Graham Nash and (famed drummer) Russ Kunkel sending me ‘Doing Fine Without You.’ I told them as soon as I had a record deal in place, I would cut it. That song reminded me so much of my early records, raw and honest, and that song put the wheels in motion for the kind of album I would make. I remember listening to albums in the ‘70s where every song mattered and there was no filler or fluff. I think that somehow because it became so easy to download individual tracks, we lost sight of making records that spoke as a full body of work. Safe in the Arms of Time is my way of bringing that back.”
Nicknamed “The Delta Lady” by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell, Coolidge was an iconic figure throughout the ‘70s, whose professional and personal associations with rock’s most prominent artists became part of Los Angeles music lore. In the late ‘60s, the Lafayette, Tennessee native moved to Memphis and was soon singing jingles, demos and background vocals for a number of area bands—including the husband & wife duo, Delaney & Bonnie. When the pair signed their record deal, Coolidge’s rep as an A-list backup singer spread quickly. Cocker enlisted her in that role and as a featured soloist on his Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour; the live album features her singing the lead on “Superstar.” Sessions with other rock royalty followed, including tours and recordings with Eric Clapton (“After Midnight”), Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell and Stephen Stills (“Love The One You’re With”). Her association as an artist with A&M Records lasted nearly 15 years.
In an era when an album per year was the norm, Coolidge released more than a dozen in the years to follow, including 1977’s multi-platinum Anytime… Anywhere, which spawned her Top 10 pop hits “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” and “We’re All Alone.” and the Top 10 AC hit “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” In addition to her catalog of hit singles and soundtrack songs (including “Love Came For Me” from the movie Splash and the James Bond Octopussy theme “All Time High” (a #1 AC hit), Coolidge performed with George Harrison, Roger Waters, Robbie Robertson and Jimmy Buffett.
In 1973, Coolidge married singer, songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson. During their eight-year union, the pair teamed up for a number of hits and classic albums. In addition to twice being named Country Duo of the Year, they won dual Grammys for “From the Bottle to the Bottom” and “Lover Please.” In the late ‘90s, Coolidge began exploring her Native American roots as a founding member of Walela, a trio that included Coolidge’s sister Priscilla and Priscilla’s daughter Laura Satterfield. The group, whose name means “hummingbird” in Cherokee, released two studio albums, Walela and Unbearable Love, and performed at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics with Robbie Robertson of The Band.
Here’s the video of Rita Coolidge’s new single, “Walking On Water” (featuring Keb’ Mo’).
For the recording of Safe in the Arms of Time, Coolidge and Grammy winning producer Ross Hogarth (Ziggy Marley, Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal, Van Halen) joined forces with an all-star lineup of musicians (guitarist Dave Grissom, bassist Bob Glaub, keyboardist John “J.T.” Thomas and drummer Brian MacLeod) at L.A.’s Sunset Sound, the famed recording facility where Coolidge recorded her first solo albums for A&M. “Going back to Sunset Sound was like taking a journey into the past—there was a memory down every hallway,” she says.
Although better known for recording the works of great songwriters (including Kristofferson, Boz Scaggs, Smokey Robinson and John Barry/Tim Rice), Coolidge is widely recognized for being the uncredited writer of the piano coda of Clapton’s “Layla”—and co-wrote many songs with Walela. True to the album’s very personal nature, Safe In the Arms of Time marks a welcome return to composing; in addition to writing “Walking on Water” and the edgy blues rocker about enduring love, “Naked All Night,” with Keb’ and Colucci, she penned “You Can Fall in Love” with former Tom Petty drummer Stan Lynch and naturalist and Emmy Award-winning writer Joe Hutto.
The track explores reconnecting with an old flame, as she did with Hutto after decades apart. It embodies one of the album’s most compelling through-lines: it’s never too late. “People need to have an awakening that you can fall in love at any age and it will feel right, like you’re 15,” Coolidge says. “I really wanted to have that message come across on this record. Joe has always been in my heart and mind, and our reunion really proved to me that sometimes love truly is, as we write in the song, ‘safe in the arms of time.’ To me, there’s a thread and connection with all these new songs, which come together to tell my story. I like to think the deeper story is if it happens to me, it will happen to whoever is listening to it. It transcends words and notes and touches the depths of our souls. A lot of people give up on love and their dreams and ultimately themselves, and artists sometimes despair when they’re no longer making hit records. I’m still grateful that I can be out there performing, my gift intact, and that the timbre of my voice can still resonate in people’s hearts.”
Safe in the Arms of Time marks the first new music that Coolidge has recorded since the tragic death in 2014 of her beloved sister, Priscilla. The recording of the album also coincided with her relocation from Southern California to a new life in Tallahassee (FL), where in the ‘60s, as an art major at Florida State University, she discovered her true calling as a musician. In her 2016 autobiography Delta Lady: A Memoir, she wrote eloquently about the unique journey of her life: “Sometimes the path is surrounded by rainbows, and sometimes it’s buried in the mud. I’m still here and I still have a lot of gratitude for the whole process of being able to make music. . .Life needs art to express emotions we find too painful or unknowable to express ourselves. To paraphrase Apple’s slogan, whatever you’re going through, there’s a song for that. As my Cherokee grandmother told me when I was a girl in Tennessee, ‘It’s all about listening.’”