Cyndi Lauper's new album of country standards seems like a strange left turn for a singer who's twisted through much of her career. Detour is an album of classics, with guest appearances from legends like Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris. Detour is a natural progression.

Really, Lauper's 11th studio album is just a short drive up Tennessee's I-40. In 2010 she released Memphis Blues, a project that needs no further explanation. She says her love of stories, and a desire to work with producer Seymour Stein brought her to Nashville for two weeks. The collaborations happened naturally.

“Alison (Krauss) was across the road, doing her own record," the 62-year-old says. "So she was around. Willie was doing a record, he was doing two records at once.” She's as comfortable talking about the stars that joined her as she is the men and women she covers on the 12-song project. Songs made famous by Guy Mitchell, Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold and Patsy Montana stand out with her authentic yet modern interpretation.

He actually came to Nashville, and I waited in the front ... And of course they drove around the back in their bus," Lauper says of Nelson. "When he walked in I almost started crying. He didn’t see me, I was very professional. It was like, Yoda walking in.

“Like ‘Funnel of Love,’" she says of the album's opener. "I cut my teeth singing rockabilly listening to Wanda Jackson. She was the first woman rocker, to me.”

Her version of Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" is familiar, but quicker, as when she walks Central Park with her husband, he strides faster.

“With ‘Walking After Midnight,’ I sang in the ‘80s in my apartment cause I was famous and I couldn’t go out. And I didn’t want to live with body guards, so I stayed in. And my friend worked at MCA and they had a lot of Patsy Cline’s catalog and that’s all she did, send me Patsy Cline and all day long I would sing with Patsy. I just kind of became very close to Patsy.”

Growing up Lauper says she idolized women like Cline, Loretta Lynn and especially Dolly Parton. They were pop artists to her, and she followed in their footsteps in her own unique way. Fans may compare "Jolene" and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and hear two very different compositions, but both spin on a good story.

“Every single song that I ever did told a story," Lauper insists. "You have to tell stories. And that’s probably a tradition I learned as a kid.”

Sire Records
Sire Records

Vocally, the native New Yorker keeps her signature voice in shape with a therapist three times a week. Fans hear fleeting moments of her accent on songs from Detour. One will also be caught adoring the charming flips that have become such a calling card for her over the last 30-plus years. There's recognizable innocence, and it spills over. Lauper recalls trying to get Nelson to sing with her — something he'd do if she joined him on his Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin album ("Twist my arm," she says) —  but she couldn't get to Texas and only had two weeks to put this album to bed.

“He actually came to Nashville, and I waited in the front (of the studio)," she recalled. "And of course they drove around the back in their bus and I don’t know … when he walked in I almost started crying.”

“He didn’t see me, I was very professional. It was like, Yoda walking in.”

Spend a few minutes with Lauper and you'll find a true professional eager to talk shop. She's as hands-on as any artist and is always in search for a sonic wave to let her voice ride along. It's almost a mystical thing when it's right, but when it's wrong, she knows. "Night Life," a Ray Price song she cut with Nelson, started very wrong.

“I wanted to sing like Ray Price, I really did," she says. "But when I tried to, I sounded like Ethel Merman.”

Expect a couple of songs from Detour during live performances, but this music veteran is smart enough to rely on her hits that sold the tickets. In some ways this was an album for her; a chance to scratch an itch. She's earned it.

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