Montreal-based jazz vocalist Ranee Lee has reimagined songs by Quebec superstar Céline Dion for her latest album Because You Loved Me.
The new collection features nine of Dion’s greatest hits including My Heart Will Go On, I’m Alive, All By Myself, Nature Boy and The Prayer.
When her record label, Justin Time, initially approached her with the idea, Lee says she initially declined.
“I said no… but I still took three minutes to listen to what they had to say, then I refused again, and I kept refusing for days, ” she explains. “At first I thought they were joking, and then it became clear that it wasn’t a joke. I have a lot of respect for Céline as a singer — she is wonderful. There is no artist these days who surpasses her in terms of skill and vocal range. It’s just not my style. Then I took some time to think about it.”
But then during a trip to New York, Lee discovered the music of Snarky Puppy, the four-time Grammy-winning jazz-fusion ensemble led by bassist Michael League.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, here’s a concept — if we could take Céline’s songs and rearrange them in this style,” Lee recalls. “So I had a good foundation, knowing that I didn’t have to stay true to the original version and could improvise however I wanted, as if they were my own songs and had never been done before.”
Watch the trailer for Because You Loved Me:
Lee enlisted pianist and producer Taurey Butler to work on the new arrangements. She’s joined by her other regular bandmates, bassist Dave Watts and drummer Jim Doxas, who have appeared on Lee’s previous albums including 2014’s What’s Going On. However, it’s Lee’s first album without her husband, guitarist Richard Ring, who died of cancer in 2018.
“It was a strength to feel his presence,” Lee says. “He would have told us to follow this path. Each piece that I approached paid homage to him. He was there in my thoughts, in my vision of the song.”
The album features the additional talents of guitarist Carlos Jiménez, trumpeter Ron DiLauro, saxophonist Richard Beaudet, trombonist Muhammed Abdul Al Khabyyr, violinists Kate Bevan-Baker and Émilie Brûlé, and cellist Amanda Keesmaat.
For more than 40 years, Lee has enjoyed a career as one of Canada’s most popular jazz vocalists, an award-winning actress, a songwriter, and an author of children’s books. Since 1984, she has recorded 13 albums for Justin Time, including multiple collaborations with legendary Montreal pianist Oliver Jones.
Lee won a Dora Mavor Moore Award in the late ’80s for her starring role as Billie Holiday in the stage musical Lady Day. She won a Juno Award in 2010 for her album Renee Lives Upstairs. She was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2006.
Here’s the track listing:
- My Heart Will Go On
- I’m Alive
- Tale as Old as Time
- All By Myself
- House of the Rising Sun / Je Crois Toi
- Nature Boy
- Because You Loved Me
- The Power of Love
- The Prayer
Ranee Lee’s Because You Loved Me is out May 13, 2022 via Justin Time.