Never say never: Shania Twain finds new voice after illness

Canadian singer Shania Twain. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Canadian singer Shania Twain. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

New York (AP) – After becoming a global icon and one of the world’s best-selling singers of all-time, Shania Twain had to utter the scariest five words a vocalist would ever hear: “I may never sing again.”

The queen of country pop contracted Lyme’s disease, which crippled her most prized instrument — her voice — and she thought her singing career was over.

“It can kill you.  And if it doesn’t kill you, it can give you a seriously degenerated quality of life for the rest of your life,” she said in a recent interview.

It didn’t kill Twain, but the process of finding her voice again was gruesome and trying: “I sounded like a dying cow for a long time before I was able to really make any sounds that were pleasing at all.”

But Twain, who has persevered since her career launched in 1993, was ready to do the work to rebuild her voice, and life.  She trained with coaches and worked extensively on her vocals, comparing the experience to an athlete recovering from a major injury.

Twain tested out her voice in various ways in the 15 years in between her last album, 2002’s “Up!,” and her newest effort, “Now”:  She sang duets with Lionel Richie and Michael Buble for their own albums; she completed a residency in Las Vegas; and launched a successful U.S. tour, reconnecting with the fans that helped her sell more than 90 million albums worldwide.

“I feel triumphant,” Twain said.  “I just feel like I’ve climbed this huge mountain and I made it to the top. …And, you know, coming from a time when I really thought I would never record an album again, that I would never tour again, that I would never sing professionally again.

“And now here I am with a whole album,” she continued, “it’s like a small miracle really for me personally.”

“Now” is probably Twain’s most personal album to date.  She wrote all 16 songs alone — a rarity in today’s music world — and she spilled her feelings and emotions in the songs, even crying and breaking down in the studio throughout the process.  Though she is one of the most celebrated musicians in history and she’s found a lifetime success in performing, her life hasn’t been easy.

Twain, who had a rough childhood in Canada, grew up poor and around abuse.  Her parents died in a car crash and she took on the role of caring for her three younger siblings.  She moved to Nashville, but the country star with pop flavor had trouble settling into the new town.  She eventually married producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, and they co-wrote some of her most successful songs, but they later divorced.

Her latest album’s lead single, the fun and breezy “Life’s About to Get Good” peaked at No. 33 on Billboard’s Hot country songs chart, and despite having an album that sold more than 20 million units in the U.S. and two others sell more than 10 million each, Twain and her label aren’t feeling pressure.

“The industry has changed so much. …It’s like comparing apples and oranges now,” Twain said of selling albums today compared to the 1990s and early 2000s.  “It’s just different and the tallying is coming from such a broad spectrum, so I’m not feeling that pressure just because it just doesn’t even exist anymore.  The pressure for me is really more, ‘Will I write music that relates to my fans?  Will they relate to what I have to say?’

“I’m different now.  I think differently now.  I’ve evolved. That’s why I call the album ‘Now,’” she said. “This is me now.”