Every Mother Counts: The Music
The Every Mother Counts CD compilation features 15 songs by 14 mother/musicians. We asked them to contribute an original song or a cover around the theme of motherhood.
It could be anything they wanted, and many chose to tackle lullabies or wrote songs for their children. Early on, I worried a bit about an album supporting an issue as serious as maternal mortality, as it could potentially become a heavy listen. But thankfully I found the resulting record veers back and forth between the sweet and the bittersweet, capturing a richness and a greater complexity – exactly like life.
The collaboration that developed throughout the length of the project between Christy Turlington Burns, her assistant (the now legendary Nicolas Newbold) and myself was a focused, organic endeavor that inspired each of us. It was a tight work unit that kept each other looped in and quickly figured out how to pull all this off under quick deadlines, often having to track down convoluted connections. Christy made it easy and a thorough pleasure. No matter where in the world she might be at any given moment (shooting further film footage in Tanzania, a modeling gig in Paris, a film screening of NWNC in the U.K., or even while spending time with her family on Christmas Eve!), she was immediately available online to answer any question, concern, or to second an idea, to problem-solve or simply to joyously celebrate the sound of a new song. She is truly one of a kind.
We didn’t have room or time for more extensive liner notes in the CD booklet, so in lieu of that, here’s a few song notes after the fact and in no particular order:
Martha Wainwright: The inimitable singer-songwriter was the only artist on our list who had contributed to Christy’s documentary. She provided the memorable title track “No Woman, No Cry,” a cover of Bob Marley’s immortal hit. Being familiar with the content of the film, Martha was a natural invitee for our wish list. She was the first to officially say “yes” to being on the CD and quickly offered up three more songs that she thought might work for it. I wish I could have put them all on, as each was quite moving. Hopefully they will all see the light of day on her forthcoming album. The one additional song we chose to include was “Leave Behind” – a beautiful, haunting piece that quickly became an early favorite of Christy and I. We immediately knew it would be the first song to lead off the CD.
Carla Bruni: Another close friend of Christy’s, the First Lady of France is also a singer-songwriter. I’d been a fan of her music for quite some time and was thrilled when she said she wanted to contribute. Christy asked if I could make Carla a mixed CD of some songs that maybe she could cover, which I did with relish. The song she ultimately chose – “Le loup, la biche et le chevalier (Une Chanson Douce)” – wasn’t even on that mix. It’s a famous French song written by Henri Salvador that Carla’s music production team suggested and sang to me over the phone one early, early morning. Did I think this song might work for Carla and the compilation? I already loved the song, but, hmm, being serenaded from Paris over the phone made me that much less inclined to say “No.”
Jennifer Lopez: The contributor of “One Step At a Time” was immediately enthiusiastic about the project and also the first to send her completed track in. Written for her twins (and also a natural tie in with her own Mirabel Foundation), it is tenderly delivered as only she can, and the handful who heard it early on were quite moved.
Sheryl Crow: “Lullaby for Wyatt,” Sheryl’s plaintive song to her son, captures an intimacy between mother and child that was a perfect fit for the CD. For many new mothers I know, this is their favorite song on the album.
Dixie Chicks: It had been an early hope of mine to have a new song (mini-reunion of the Dixie Chicks) on this compilation, as the trio of Natalie, Martie and Emily had been taking time away from the band (with Martie and Emily focusing on the Court Yard Hounds). There wasn’t time to make it happen, but we were still able to get “Lullaby” from them, a wonderful contribution off of Take the Long Road.
Ani DiFranco: I’ve been in love with Ani’s music since the mid-1990s (and it turned out that Christy was a fan as well), but had no idea Ani was also a mother. An invite was sent out right away and she was so moved by the project and cause that she immediately went into the studio over a weekend and re-recorded the song “Present/Infant” off of Red Letter Day. Wow. I like it better than the original, and the speed with which it was finished is as wondrous as the final result.
Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon: –It was such a cool “get” to have Toshi and her mother duetting on “There and Back Again” for this compilation. Christy had attended the Women’s TED conference and witnessed an inspiring performance of theirs. She immediately e-mailed my colleague Holly Hinton and I to ask: “Should we ask Toshi?” At the time I was trying to license Toshi and Chocolate Genius’ sublime cover version of the Cars’ ditty “Just What I Needed” for a Valentine’s Day package, so the answer was an immediate “Yes!” The song we ended up with is a beautiful fit and Toshi’s enthusiasm for the music and the cause was inspiring to all of us.
Madonna: –Her song “Promise to Try” is another indelible contribution to the album from a very busy musician/mother. Christy and I were both leaning toward another song of hers (the equally great “Little Star”), when I recalled this one had been written about Madonna’s mom. It comes from perhaps her most introspective effort, 1989’s Like a Prayer, and adds some gravitas with hope to the mix.
Sinead O’Connor: Another early inspiration for us was Sinead and her song “This Is To Mother You.” We were so close to putting that song on the CD, when Sinead’s music producer John Reynolds asked if we thought “Petit Poulet” might work. It was a rarity that had only appeared on an obscure, out-of-print EP. I actually had it in my record collection and pulled it out. Immediately re-fell in love with it all over again. Christy seconded that emotion.
Karen Elson: Her contribution, “The Last Laugh,” is another song that blended well with the CD. Originally “Pretty Babies” seemed a natural choice, but then at the last minute, Karen felt this felt more right. Completely agree. Unfortunately the credits for that latter song carried over and got overlooked in the proofreading of the CD booklet credits. (So sorry, Karen!) It should be duly noted that Ms. Elson is the sole songwriter of this stirring song.
Angelique Kidjo: She is very active with her own Batonga Foundation, and we were lucky and proud to have her as part of this project as well. She suggested a cover of “Sweet Lullaby,” Deep Forest’s 1992 hit which sampled the voices of an aboriginal tribe. Christy, restless intellect that she is, immediately researched the translation. I had loved the original song in college and I think Angelique’s version is a brilliant re-working.
Rosanne Cash: “Motherless Children” was another early inspiration and one that Christy kept mentioning as a possible cover for another artist. We went one better and had the privilege of having Rosanne record a new version of it for the project. I had made a rough mix of what the EMC CD might sound like for Sandy Nelson, the artist from our incomparable Creative Studio team who designed the CD cover. She was so moved and inspired by this song that she said the “project moved from work to art” and became something larger for her. Thank you, Rosanne! Thanks, Sandy!
Patti Scialfa: “Children’s Song” is a highlight in an album of highlights. Patti had written this wonderful song about her children awhile back for one of her solo albums, but that version had languished unfinished. Christy got an e-mail from Patti, her good friend, saying that she was in the studio revisiting the song and that her husband (a certain Mr. Springsteen) had just joined her and that they were actually doing it as a duet now – “Was was that okay if he was on the album?” she asked. Um, yeah (grudgingly) I guess that would be okay. Haha. Of course it was!
Gwyneth Paltrow: Lastly, I have to mention that the one (technically) “non-musician” on the album more than held her own. Christy’s close friend was the second to say “yes” to the project, within hours of Martha. Gwyneth had been one of the earliest to commit, but her whirlwind schedule had kept her out of the studio for months. When she finally was able to do it, she wasn’t sure what song would work. I’d heard that she might select a country song in the wake of her singing performance in Country Strong. Then she was said to be considering Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” – a great choice and one I’d still like to hear some day. She asked for some further suggestions, which I was happy to provide. One of these was the Kate Bush song, “This Woman’s Work,” an artist and song whom I had endlessly mooned over back in the late-1980s. A challenging piece? Sure. But I had heard enough of Gwyneth’s singing to believe she could pull it off. Boy, did she! One more highlight of this project was being briefly pulled away from my son’s birthday party to hear when Gwyneth first sent the finished song. Christy had forwarded it to me the moment she got it and we simultaneously listened to it online, Christy in New York and I in Seattle. Christy was the first to type/express one simple word that captured exactly what I was experiencing at the moment we heard Gwyneth’s voice: “Chills.”
For more information on how you can help raise awareness about maternal health and take action please visit Everymothercounts.org and Care.org. And stay tuned for the third of three parts on our Every Mother Counts CD. Next up: a certain special guest informs us further about the project.