MICHAEL LINGTON – SILVER LINING:
Growing up in Copenhagen, Michael Lington remembers the precise moment he decided he needed to move to America if he was going to seriously pursue a career in music. He was still a budding musician at the time, who loved several different genres: jazz, pop, R&B and more—as a young boy he’d even met the American swing legend Benny Goodman. But it wasn’t until he was on the verge of turning 20 that Lington—now recognized as one of the most creative and successful contemporary soul and jazz saxophonists in the world—made his fateful decision.
Immersing himself in his favorite music—David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, King Curtis, Hank Crawford, Cannonball Adderley and Grover Washington—Michael started out on clarinet but soon found his true calling, the saxophone. Already established in his homeland, he made the move to the U.S. and began to grab a foothold in the music industry there. Eventually, after much hard work, his place within the American and international music scene came to him naturally:
“I loved that contemporary sax was so versatile in all styles of music: funk, jazz, R&B, pop,” Lington says, but soul music hit him most directly. “It’s hard to describe why something in particular is meaningful to a person, but soul music spoke to me very early on in my life—it’s just a feeling and reaction I had when I would hear it.”
Michael Lington is releasing Silver Lining, his 10th solo album, the followup to 2016’s critically acclaimed Second Nature. Silver Lining features mostly original compositions by Lington and producer/co-arranger/keyboardist Barry Eastmond, as well as a pair of stunning, choice covers.
“This has been my favorite album to record,” says Lington. “With Silver Lining there was an overall confidence and clarity as to what I wanted to achieve, so I had more capacity to just let loose and have fun. We recorded most of it live so we could get that organic, special feel from all of the musicians being in the studio at the same time. “Whether we record at Sunset Sounds in L.A. or Royal Studio in Memphis, it’s all the same process,” he adds. “All of the musicians are in one room together, except for some of the special guests, who we recorded at different times for logistical reasons, although Barry and I were always present to make sure our vision was reached.”
Those guests include some of the top names in the business. In addition to Lington’s alto sax and Eastmond’s keys on all tracks, the participating musicians include Paul Jackson Jr. and Ray Parker Jr. on guitars, Freddie Washington and Alex Al sharing bass duties, Teddy Campbell contributing the drums, Lenny Castro on percussion, and a number of other musicians appearing on a track or two, including one of the original Funk Brothers, Jack Ashford. The horns are arranged by Lester Snell and Eastmond. “The musicians on the album are some of the best in the world—it is so inspiring to be surrounded by such talent,” says Lington. “It challenges me and makes me a better musician.”
Michael reserves special praise for Barry Eastmond, who has worked with Lington for some time and serves as a true collaborator on Silver Lining. “We originally met in New York when I was a special guest with Michael Bolton,” Lington says. “He produced Bolton some years ago and was hanging out backstage. I knew about Barry’s work with Billy Ocean, Anita Baker and Jonathan Butler so I was excited when he came up to me and told me he was a fan of my music and would love to work together. Shortly thereafter we started writing and came up with the concept of doing more soul-based, live-feeling recordings. We soon went into the studio and made my Soul Appeal album. Silver Lining is our third album together. He has been a very important component in every aspect, including being the barometer for how to make an album feel really good.”
Silver Lining begins with “City Life,” one of three consecutives Eastmond/Lington compositions at the top of the track list. It features guitar from the legendary Dave Stewart of Eurythmics. “Three years ago,” Lington recalls, “Dave and I were both performing at a show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and prior to the show he asked me if I would join him on a song during his set. I was very flattered as I was a big fan of him and Eurythmics. We became instant friends and have played and written together many times since then. When I asked him if he would play on my new album, he said absolutely.”
Following the next two originals, “Break the Ice” and “Déjà Vu,” arrives the first interpretative piece on Silver Lining, Curtis Mayfield’s classic, timeless ballad “People Get Ready,” which the late R&B icon recorded with the Impressions in 1965. To sing the song, Lington recruited 2017 Grammy winner William Bell, himself a soul legend who recorded for Memphis’ Stax Records back in its heyday. “I knew I wanted to record it on this album. I just wasn’t sure who was going to sing it until I met William Bell at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame,” Lington says. “I was asked to induct the great [jazz musician] Charles Lloyd and William was getting inducted himself. When I heard him sing that night I knew he was the one for that song…and he agreed to do it!”
Of the title track to Silver Lining, Lington says, “I feel in life you have to always find the silver lining. Most times things don’t turn out the way you think they will, but somehow they always work out, many times for the better. This song I love because it reminds me of the old CTI Records [jazz label] days. That music is my core and makes an emotional connection with me and most lovers of early soul-jazz. The title ‘Silver Lining’ just fits this song.”
Two more originals, “Can’t Say Goodbye” and “M-Funk,” follow, the latter featuring guitarist, singer-songwriter and record producer extraordinaire Ray Parker Jr. “Ray is one of my best friends and we have worked together for many years,” says Lington. “He must have played on at least five of my albums. He always surprises me with his creativity; his approach to the guitar is like no one else. Who are you gonna call when you need something unique? Ray Parker Jr!”
The original “Swingin’ on Main Street” precedes “So Very Hard to Go,” the soul classic by Tower of Power. Guest Dorian Holley provides the tour de force vocal. “I wanted to record it for this album but make it more like an intimate Al Green record than a horn band record,” says Lington. “Dorian was just supposed to help us out with a guide vocal, but we loved his performance so much that we kept it for the record.”
The final two tracks, “Jaywalking” (featuring Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar) and “Straight to the Top,” are further originals, closing out the set in style. For Lington, Silver Lining is both a culmination of all the musical places he has been and a taste of where he’s headed. He’s always seeking to evolve.
“It’s been 20 years since my first album and I feel I’m just getting started,” he says. “Yes, I have had many wins along the way, including radio success, and my new album is sincerely my favorite. I think that’s because I have come into myself and am comfortable in who I am as an artist, but honestly, I don’t think a lot about success. I’m more interested in what’s happening next, what is my next journey or chapter.”
He’s also learned much about business along the way, which led him and his business partner, Roy McClurg, to launch his own record label, Copenhagen Music, in 2014. Lington is also an entrepreneur outside of music, operating his own wine and cigar companies. He continues to tour, performing as many as 80 concerts per year, and has played in more than 40 countries, working many of the world’s most prestigious venues. He’s even performed for a U.S. President.
This year, Lington will tour behind Silver Lining, hitting the road with his band and reuniting with an old friend, singer Kenny Lattimore.
“My music has changed a bit over the years but now it’s uptempo soul, funk and R&B,” he says. “Basically, I try to entertain people with feel-good music and give them a fun time.”