After getting a major-label shot, Twin Cities pop singer Keri Noble was ready to quit music. But now she's back on her own terms.
Keri Noble should have called her new album "Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes." Since releasing her ballyhooed 2004 debut with the team that launched Norah Jones, the Minneapolis piano popster has changed record labels twice, managers twice, married and divorced, and changed her hair color several times.
She almost changed careers, too. "I thought I could learn something else," Noble said. "So I entertained a lot of ideas that were completely nonartistic. A physical trainer. A hairdresser, since I love hair. I even joked about being a waitress here because I was a waitress before."
After a big dance with EMI-owned Manhattan Records, Noble was fed up with the music business. She didn't like being told how to make music, how to wear her hair and how to lie about her age. (She was 28 at the time, but the label's bio shaved off two years.) While she sold more than 30,000 copies of her CD, "Fearless," she asked to be released from her contract with Manhattan.
So she instinctively said "No" when a top executive at modest-sized Telarc Records called to offer a recording deal.
The courtship took a while. "I'm not 18; I don't have stars in my eyes," Noble said she told Telarc. "I'm not going to be easy like I was before."
Though hesitant, she flew to Cleveland in 2007 to visit Telarc (refusing to even stay overnight) and -- surprise -- "I felt valued," she said. "It was genuine. And they don't have another pop artist."
Noble had already recorded her second album with then-husband/producer Jeff Arundel at their own expense, intending to release it on their own. Instead, she decided to sign with Telarc, home to Afro-pop choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo, blues singer Shemekia Copeland and jazz singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli.
From penthouse to tiny apartment
"She has become very independent artistically and in her life," said Minneapolis entertainment lawyer Ken Abdo, who has known Noble for nine years. "She's really defined her point of view, both artistically and personally."
For Noble, it has been a dramatic change as she literally moved from a penthouse to an apartment so small there's no room for her piano.
"It feels like it's taken a million years to get this album out," said the Texas-born, Detroit-raised Noble, who moved to Minnesota in 2000.
One unforeseen delay was having to deal with and eventually diagnose her reaction to mold in her abodes. "I have serious mold issues," she said. "Most people when they have allergy issues, they get more drippy [nose] and stuffy whereas I just get more dry so sound can't really resonate and then more of the delicate parts of my [vocal] range get blocked off."
Moreover, Telarc wanted time to develop a campaign for Noble's CD. So, last year, she put out two EPs -- one of holiday music, one of pop tunes.
While her debut was heavy on ballads, "Keri Noble" is a more well-rounded collection -- R&B, gospel, ballads, pop, even a little rock. From the opening "Watch Me Walk" to the gospelly "Go Proud," this CD exudes a more fully realized femininity.
Noble will celebrate her just-released album with her band Monday at the Guthrie Theater, and then she'll hit the road solo next month. The tour will include her first national TV appearance, CBS' "Saturday Early Show," on March 7. Meanwhile, her single, "Emily," will be heard Thursday night on "Grey's Anatomy."
Big in Japan
In January, she did a brief tour of Japan, her fifth visit there. She has enjoyed two hit songs there -- both in English ("Talk to Me" and "Look at Me") -- as well as a post-"Fearless" album on the JVC label. She wrote "Look How Far You've Come" as a theme song for a Japanese TV show about a female attorney. "Look at Me" also has been featured in commercials for Shiseido makeup and in the romantic film "Tokyo Tower."
"My audience there is a huge female deal," Noble said. "What I hear them saying -- all the lyrics are translated on the CD booklet -- they feel some sort of empowerment from a woman singing songs like 'Watch Me Walk.'"
The Japanese women seem to recognize Noble, whether her hair was blond (as on the cover of "Fearless") or dark red (the cover of "Keri Noble"). Last week, though, she favored sort of a blue/black.
"I'm naturally a brunette," she admitted. "This just happens to be the look of the moment. I can't ever go back to blond. I feel like every time I looked in the mirror I didn't feel it was me. I'll probably go back and forth between reds and browns. I got a phone call from my guy at the label who was respectfully asking if I might keep the same look for a little while so that I look like I do on the CD. And I will."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719