With a Grammy Award, an Americana Music Award and a long track record of critical reviews, no Nashville record producer has mastered the fine art of the tribute album quite like Tamara Saviano.
She went from, as she puts it, not knowing what she was doing when she produced “Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster” in 2002 to her passion project of “This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark.” The Stephen Foster tribute won the Grammy for best traditional folk album, and the Guy Clark tribute was named Americana album of the year to go along with a Grammy nomination.
Saviano’s work on “The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson” also won rave reviews. And now she’s back again, having produced the recently released “Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne,” which also has impressed music critics.
Saviano, an artist manager and a published author whose critically acclaimed new book, “The Most Beautiful Girl,” is a memoir about her turbulent relationship with her dad, talked with The Tennessean’s music business reporter, Nate Rau, about the fine art of the tribute album and her varied approach on all four projects.
Talk about the process for a tribute album. Do you pick the songs first and then find artists to record them, or vice versa?
It’s different for every album. With “Beautiful Dreamer,” which is the first one I did, I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t know what I’m doing — they all come together the way they’re meant to I think. With “Beautiful Dreamer,” we just had this wish list that we could get John Prine on the album; we didn’t even care what song he did.
Then by the time we did “The Pilgrim,” which was the tribute to Kris, I was like, “No, no, no, I want certain artists to do certain songs.” I wasn’t as brave then, so I would tentatively say, “Would you do this song?” Sometimes they’d say yes and sometimes they’d say no.
By the time I got to the Guy Clark tribute, that was my project, that was my baby and I had felt like I’d made some missteps on the previous albums. It was a double album, and I wanted it to be in my heart and mind perfect. So I was pretty solid on what I wanted, who I wanted on the album and what songs I wanted them to do.
Talk about the latest tribute album and the Jackson Browne project.
It was a totally different thing because it wasn’t my creative project. It was Kelcy Warren, who is a Dallas businessman, who happens to own the studio where I recorded the Guy Clark tribute. …
Kelcy had a wish list of artists, what song he wanted them to do, and he basically hired me to go out and make it happen. During (a conference call) I asked him, “Do you have ideas of how you want this to sound?”
On the Guy Clark tribute I had a house band, I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound. I didn’t just send money out into the world and say, “Hey, go record this song.” But on the Jackson Browne tribute, Kelcy said he wanted every artist to do exactly what they want, and he wanted me to give them the tools to do it. And it was so much fun because I had a budget and could call — Don Henley is a good example; he changed his mind on the arrangement three times.
How gratifying is it to listen back to the album and here it that first time knowing how it came together?
It’s really fun. And the thing is, it always surprises me. Even with the Jackson Browne thing, which wasn’t really my project, when I first listen to it, you’re like ‘Wow, we did it.’ We pulled it off. It happened. It’s really fun.
Reach Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 and on Twitter @tnnaterau.