On everybody’s list of favorite country female stars of the 1980’s was the singular-named Sylvia. The youngster out of Indiana woke up the charts with a lively, spirited sound perfectly apt for an artist in her twenties. Her biggest triumphs like the chart-toppers “Drifter” and “Nobody” made liberal use of the era-defining synthesizers and drums, prompting some reviewers to label her music as “prairie disco” or some form thereof. “Nobody” even crossed over to the pop charts, landing at a respectable No. 15.
Cut to present day, where Sylvia is bringing back those and other classics for her latest album, “Second Bloom—The Hits Re-Imagined.” The record’s concept is just as the title suggests. Sylvia has reworked “Nobody,” “Drifter,” “Fallin’ in Love” and seven of her other hits with new vocal interpretations and a contemporary sound.
It’s an idea that Sylvia, now 61, has been hatching for a few years. “The original recordings were done when I was in my twenties,” Sylvia tells “Sports and Entertainment Nashville.” “Over the years, they have evolved and I am a different person today.” At that, she reveals an insightful nugget about singing. “Everything in your life shows up in your voice,” she says. “When I was starting out, and I was singing a song about loss, like ‘Drifter,’ well, I hadn’t really experienced it that much. But now, the song takes on a whole different meaning because I have been through a lot more. I don’t do those songs the same way anymore. So, it was great to bring them all up to date. It was just a beautiful experience.”
Sylvia also gives fresh renderings of “Cry Just a Little Bit,” now with more of a shuffle feel, and “Fallin’ in Love,” which peaked at No. 2 on the country charts in 1985. For the latter, the sound reflects more of a bluegrass style, emphasized by Sylvia’s swing-laden vocal and the fiddle work of top musician Andy Leftwich.
“We wanted to do that with a different approach,” Sylvia explains. “That was the whole idea of the album, to bring new life into these songs and give them more of a timeless production.”
Sylvia brings an interesting history to modern-day music, as she was the product of a different era of entertainers. Unlike the climate of today, record labels did not necessarily require female singers to write their own tunes. As such, most of Sylvia’s hits were outside songs, penned by some of Music Row’s finest. The writing tandem of Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, for example, was responsible for Sylvia’s singles “Nobody,” “Sweet Yesterday,” “Tumbleweed” and others.
You might say that Sylvia had an inside track to those writers. “I worked for the publishing company they wrote for [Tom Collins Music] after I first came to Nashville,” Sylvia says with a slight laugh. “I would always ask them to please let me have their songs first. They wrote a lot of hits for Barbara Mandrell so I didn’t always get them. But they were my friends and were so instrumental in my early success.”
Sylvia only started writing original material later in her career. “I was right at the tail end of an era when we weren’t expected to write our own songs,” she says. “The songwriters were the backbones of the industry and we really depended on them for our hits.” Today, it’s not uncommon for female artists to write their own songs, as evidenced by stars like Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and many others.
The ’80’s also marked a decade that proved difficult for female country performers in a male-dominated industry. Women were largely disrespected and their concerns went generally ignored. Sylvia can recall the times with a matter-of-fact clarity.
“I remember very well a conversation with a record executive when I asked if could co-headline a tour with a male artist,” Sylvia begins. “I was told ‘no,’ that women were just an ornament. They did not headline tours because they did not, in his words, ‘put butts in the seats.’ That’s what everybody believed. But then, a few years later, along comes Shania Twain and the whole mindset changed.”
For the past several years, Sylvia has devoted considerable time to helping women in the music industry as a life and career coach. She feels encouraged by the strides women have made, as the number of female executives and business owners rises while female artists gain more input into their career path. “I’m really glad to see women in all phases of the music business having a chance to advance,” she says. “We need that balance in the industry.”
Sylvia further gives back to the Nashville community with her involvement in various charities, including Music City Animal Rescue. But by no means has she retired from the music business, as some have speculated. She’s had her own record label, Red Pony Records, since the 1990’s. In 2016, Sylvia released the acclaimed album “It’s All in the Family,” where she did most of the writing.
“I continue to sing and do concerts,” Sylvia says. “I have always taken good care of my voice. I haven’t been that visible so most people think I have retired or left the business. This year,” she adds, “I would like to get more concert dates on the books to help support the new album.”
As for “Second Bloom,” she couldn’t be more pumped. “I think the title of the album says it all,” Sylvia raves. “That actually came to me before the record was finished. I love metaphors and I love flowers. So, when we started thinking, ‘What’s the energy for this record,’ it was perfect. The album really is a ‘second bloom’ for these songs.”
Sylvia’s album “Second Bloom—The Hits Re-Imagined” is available for pre-order from iTunes and CD Baby. It will be released to retail and other outlets on June 8th.