The isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic has prompted many people to lean into their faith for comfort and peace. For Harry Connick Jr. the downtime led to creating his new album, Alone with My Faith, a collection that mixes classic songs of faith with original tunes all delivered in Connick’s inimitable style.
Released March 19 on Universal Music’s Verve and Capitol CMG, Alone with My Faith was a labor of love for the Emmy and Grammy Award winning artist who wrote or arranged every song, sang all the parts and played every instrument on the album. “I’ve been singing a lot of these songs since I was playing at seven or eight-years-old and anybody who sees me in concert knows that I usually sing songs like ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ or ‘How Great Thou Art,’ but I just never did the album, and it just felt like a good time to do it now,” Connick tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I don’t know how I would have gotten to this point without faith in my life. The album is really about all levels of it, all the joy, all the doubt and everything in between.”
“Alone with My Faith” came to Connick late in the process. “I wrote the title track after the whole album was pretty much done,” he says. “I’ve been with my manager forever, for like 35 years, and she and I are very close. Whenever I do an album, I send it to her to let her listen to it and hear what was in my head. She called me and said, ‘You should name this album ‘Alone with My Faith’ because it was really literally being alone because over the eight months that I recorded it. It was just me in the studio with no musicians, no recording engineers or people setting up microphones. It was a lot of alone time. I thought that was such a great title, so I wrote that song based on exactly what I was feeling, how strange everything seems, new and confusing, and how I felt as a result of my faith that I was going to get through it.”
Recorded at his home studio in Connecticut, Connick feels a sense of pride at having completed the project totally solo. “It was cool,” he says. “I’ve done music before where I’ve recorded all the instruments and stuff, but this was the first time I’ve done a whole entire album with this many instruments and background vocals. So yeah it felt pretty good. It was a lot of work but I really enjoyed all of it. It’s a different kind of creative process. If I’m going to go into a studio with a bunch of musicians and I play a solo, one of them might say, ‘Oh that was great,’ or ‘You should do that again.’ There’s someone to bounce your ideas off of, but when there’s no one there, it’s like if you stare at yourself in a mirror for an extended period of time you’re going to get these different kinds of feelings and perspectives. That’s what this album was. It was about the challenge of being physically alone but yet counting on faith or not being able to count on it, all of those feelings.”
When asked if this would have been a different album if there hadn’t been a pandemic, Connick responds, “Oh completely different! I would have written songs, picked some old songs that I like and gone in the studio and had a blast and made a record that was really fun just like every other record that I do. It’s a great experience so this one would have probably never existed in this way because I wouldn’t have needed to do it. But I couldn’t have anybody around, so no one got the recording levels on the drums. I had no one set up the microphones. No one hit ‘record.’ That was all me, and I think that only could have happened in this way. This was the only way to do it right now.”
Alone with My Faith includes such gospel classics as “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Because He Lives” and “The Old Rugged Cross” alongside Connick originals such as “Benevolent Man,” “Look Who I Found” and “God and My Gospel.” “I picked the first ones that popped into my mind, other than a couple of them, like my dad wanted me to sing ‘Panis Angelicus’ and my stepmom actually said, ‘What about ‘Old Time Religion?’ I haven’t thought about that song in so many years and I thought it would be fun to do kind of a New Orleans version of that. These are just songs that I love. I could have kept going, but these are the ones that kind of popped out of me and I just started recording them and moved on to the next one and before I knew it I had enough songs for an album.
“I just did things that meant something to me,” Connick continues. “Like with ‘Old Rugged Cross,’ I thought about what it would be like 2000 years ago and you’re walking through this arid land and then you see this cross which was this typical way of killing people back then. What that would have felt like to see something that was used for crucifixion and then think about what Christ went through? [In recording the song,] I didn’t feel like it called for me singing right away, so I thought about the dust in the air and sand and bells maybe ringing in the distance and I tried to create this kind of sonic landscape and then I played the melody on the organ. I played some chords on the piano and I went back and I just added the organ then it felt like it was time to sing. And then as sad as that song can be, I think it’s also joyous too. So the New Orleans instruments came in. That’s just how it evolved and I wasn’t intimidated to think, ‘Oh my gosh! This is such a famous song.’ It just means a lot to me and I just did what I thought was right.”
Connick’s distinctive take on “How Great Thou Art” is dedicated to a dear friend he lost last year. “My trombone player, Lucien Barbarin, died last year and we were very close, like brothers really,” he says. “That was a song that we would sing a lot together on the road for 30 years and I said, ‘I’m going to do this for Lucien,’ and I started thinking about the meaning of those lyrics… I said, ‘God gave us individuality and free will, so let me play this in a way that’s really close to home, kind of a New Orleans way.’ How great it is to be able to express yourself in whatever way you want and that’s kind of where that arrangement came from.”
Connick is a Renaissance man whose expansive career includes acting in such beloved films as the World War II epic Memphis Belle and Hope Floats alongside Sandra Bullock as well as stints on Broadway and hosting his own television talk show. He won his first Grammy Award for Best Jazz Male Vocal Performance for his work on the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally… soundtrack, which propelled his music career.
A multi-instrumentalist with a love for multiple musical genres, his virtuosity is on full display in the varied arrangements on Alone with My Faith. “That was kind of all over the place,” Connick says citing his self-penned “God and My Gospel.” “I’m from New Orleans and I grew up around a lot of like Southern type rock and roll and that one kind of starts like that and then transforms into like a Baptist shout at the end. It’s got some kind of different harmonies in there. I can’t really describe it. I just felt like when you are feeling really good about your faith and when you just want to sing and dance, I couldn’t really contain it in one particular genre. It was like a party. I’ve got God and my gospel and that’s all I need to live. It just came out like that. I didn’t really plan it to be anything in particular. It just sort of happened.”
“Look Who I Found” is another original song that celebrates his faith. “That one’s about either a discovery or rediscovery of faith, like ‘Wow! I found you God.’ He’s been there the whole time, but it’s such a gift if you are able to discover God. That’s just about the celebration of that moment when you realize it for the first time or you rediscover it and it’s a celebratory moment.”
Born and raised in New Orleans, music and faith have been a part of Connick’s life since childhood. “I was raised Catholic, but interestingly my mother was Jewish and did not want me or my sister to be baptized at birth,” Connick shares. “She wanted us to decide for ourselves what religion we wanted to be, so I wasn’t baptized as a baby, but I went to church with my dad every Sunday and my sister. Then not long after my mother died when I was 13, I decided I wanted to be baptized and confirmed in the Catholic church so I did. I studied my catechism and did all the things I needed to do and got baptized. I’ve been faithful my whole life but sort of officially as a Catholic since I was 14. My wife Jill is Methodist and we decided we wanted to baptize our children in the Catholic Church so we did that. All three of our girls are Catholic.”
Connick’s oldest daughter Georgia crafted his album cover as well as conceived and directed videos for “Amazing Grace” and “Alone with my Faith.” “She’s a pretty talented director and photographer,” Connick says proudly. “She’s special. I’m really proud of her and I really trust her vision. It’s a great dynamic to be able to work with your kid and have this kind of shorthand, and be able to trust them because she’s so proficient at her craft. It gives me a great sense of security when I’m working with her.”
The “Amazing Grace” clip was filmed at an old opera house in Connecticut. “It actually hasn’t been used in probably 60 years,” Connick says of the venue. “They had no heat or power. It’s just an old empty building. Actually, Harry Houdini was on that stage. Right behind the piano was a trap door that he used so it felt like it hadn’t been used since he’d been in there. It was freezing cold, but we had a great time. It was fun. I just followed Georgia’s lead and she led us through it.”
Unlike most musicians who talk effusively about how they can’t wait to get back out on the road, Connick is content to wait until the time is right and it’s safe to do so. “The last thing on my mind is performing,” he says. “I’ll wait as long as I have to because I think about people who don’t have a choice and who are out there on the front lines trying to keep us safe. From a selfish point of view, it would be nice to perform, but that actually hasn’t crossed my mind. When the time comes, it will come and in the meantime, I spend most of my time thinking about these teachers and doctors and garbage collectors and everybody else working at the grocery stores who are making it possible for us. That’s what I’ve been thinking about.”
As challenging as the past year has been, Connick admits there have been good moments too. “In terms of blessings, there have been so many. There’s been a lot of tragedy for me and my family. It’s up to 14 people now who have died in the last year, friends and family,” he says of losing loved ones, including his mother-in-law, famed sculptor Glenna Goodacre. “But there have also been so many blessings, the amount of incredible time I’ve had to spend with Jill and our daughters and just the different perspectives that have been afforded to me as a result of a change in lifestyle. It’s been an incredible journey and I think there have been substantial connections, human connections made as a result of having to distance ourselves physically. There’s been a lot of exciting new ways to communicate and connect with people. So there have been a lot of blessings too I think.”
One of the places he’s missed visiting since the world changed during the pandemic is Nashville. “I’ve spent a lot of time there. I’ve performed there many, many, many times and I’ve recorded records there,” he says. “I love Nashville. I think some of the all-time great musicians live there and I have so much respect for, not only the talent pool that’s there, but also the awareness and appreciation of that by folks who love music. Every time I play there I get the sense that, ‘Hey you better bring you’re A-game because these folks really know music,’ and I love that. I think there’s such a deep appreciation for music there and for a guy like me, that’s such a great feeling.”