Shania Twain returns to touring in the midst of reimagining her music

Austin American-Statesman
By Peter Blackstock
August 6, 2015

When Shania Twain arrives at the Erwin Center on Sunday as part of her first concert tour in more than a decade, she’ll be packing a set list full of hits from the 1990s albums that sold in the tens of millions and made her one of the most successful country-pop crossover acts ever. What she won’t have, to her own mild chagrin, is a long-awaited album of new material.

The lone new song Twain has released in recent years, “Today Is Your Day” — issued in 2011 to coincide with her autobiography and a reality show that aired on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN cable network — was an auspicious hint of how Twain might reinvent herself. In the wake of the singer’s much-publicized 2008 split from husband/producer/co-writer Mutt Lange, her new song sounded refreshingly straightforward, shedding the bombast of her megastar years in favor of a more humble yet confident tone.

Shortly after the song’s release, Twain returned to the stage, spending 2013 and 2014 performing a show titled “Still the One” in Las Vegas. That got her geared up to go back on the road, and she’s been playing “Today Is Your Day” acoustically on her current “Rock This Country” tour. But although the Vegas shows resulted in the CD “Still the One: Live in Vegas” earlier this year, newer material will have to wait, for now.

“I was hoping that my album would be further along by the time I finished my residency in December in Vegas. So the timing was just not ideal,” she said in a recent telephone call with a handful of journalists. “I would love to be able to do it. But I’m not sure I would want that myself if I was going to see my favorite artist and I wanted to hear their hit songs.”

Asked about the nature and style of her new material, Twain says she expects the sound to be familiar to her fans in some respects, but decidedly different from her work with Lange. “It’s going to be a lot of unexpected elements for the music for sure, because I’m writing it all myself,” she says. “So there’s no influence from outside, and there’s no other writer or no producer directing it.

“This is just naturally going to give a different spirit to the music. And then, of course, I’ve matured, I’ve evolved, I have different things to say. I have different things to express that weren’t true about me 10, 15, 20 years ago.”

She added that it’s too early to tell exactly what the record will sound like, noting that she plans to continue working on it with a mobile recording setup while on tour this summer and fall. “I don’t know really how it’s going to turn out stylistically. Right now it’s just me and my guitar, so that’s kind of blank, as far as being able to pinpoint where it will end up as a finished record once it’s produced. But I do want to take a very organic approach to it. I’m leaning toward wanting the music to sound more organic than my previous stuff — less slick maybe in that sense.”

The shift toward a different style may also partly be due to her recent struggles with dysphonia, a vocal condition that required years of physiotherapy. “It went beyond concerns for my career or not having a career as a singer,” she said. “I really thought that I had lost my voice, the one that I knew and the voice that I once had. It was very scary and it was just something I was having a terrible time coming to terms with.

“Before I gave up on it completely, luckily I found the courage to tackle it and take it on. But the period where I believed that I would never sing again was incredibly depressing. … I was really grieving the loss of the voice that I knew.”

Though she recovered enough to resume performing, Twain, who turns 50 later this month, is less sure about continuing to do so indefinitely. She’s made statements indicating that her current tour will be her last, though it’s probably far too early to take her at her word on that, even if she thinks she means it now.

Still, it’s clear that she’s developed a new set of priorities in which performing takes a back seat to other musically creative activities. “I’m feeling that the time is just right now to do other things musically,” she says. “I want to write more, and I want to make lots more records. I miss making records, and I haven’t made enough records in my life and in my career. I’ve done a lot more live performing than I have recording. So I want to do a lot more of that, and I also want to write songs for other artists.”

Shania Twain

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Erwin Center, 1701 Red River St.

Cost: $44-$134