NEW YORK -- Carly Simon was worried about preserving her voice as she rehearsed for her first public performance of tunes from her new CD, but she couldn't restrain herself as she got swept away singing the sexy title song, "This Kind of Love."
Tall and slender, her blond hair flowing, she gently swayed her body and snapped her fingers to the beat of the samba-inspired melody, singing passionately about making love on moonlit beaches.
The CD is not only her first collection of original songs in eight years, but also finds the legendary 62-year-old singer-songwriter charting a new musical course inspired by the music of Brazil from Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa to Caetano Veloso and Jorge Ben.
"I'm setting the lyrical themes to a carnival or Brazilian or slightly samba tempo so that life is joyous even in its sadness," said Simon during a break at the Manhattan studio. "Life is a dream even in its most painful moments, it's a dream that we can dance to."
"It all kind of reminds me of 'Black Orpheus,' which I must have seen 10 times when it came out, and was so much the impetus for my getting into Brazilian music," she said, referring to the 1959 film with the Jobim-Bonfa score which retold the Greek Orpheus-Eurydice myth during Rio's Carnival.
Simon, whose 20-year marriage to writer-businessman Jim Hart ended in divorce last year, doesn't want to specify who's the boyfriend that inspired "This Kind of Love," in which she sings of falling in love with someone she "didn't see ... as my type at all."
But the new man in her life, Dr. Richard Koehler, a surgeon who served in the Gulf War, is unlike the musicians, writers and actors she's been involved with in the past.
"Because he's not an artist ... he's very different," said Simon, who met him when he was practicing on Martha's Vineyard, where she lives year-round. "Getting to know him has been quite amazing ... because he's more capable of love than anybody that I've known with the exception of one musician who I was engaged to a while back."
During the rehearsal, Simon put the finishing touches on new arrangements of some past hits -- including the Oscar-winning "Let the River Run," ''Anticipation," and "You're So Vain" -- realizing she can no longer sing them as hard as she did in the good old days.
Simon considers her songs to be "problem solvers" that have helped her channel her emotions and deal with life's challenges. That was the case with her last album of original songs from 2000, "The Bedroom Tapes," recorded at her Vineyard home when she was suffering depression after battling breast cancer.
"There were some very starkly real, scary to myself, so open songs," said Simon. "I love that album ... and think it has some of the best work I've ever done."
Simon says her last label, Columbia, considered her a "heritage" artist and insisted she do standards albums such as the Grammy-nominated "Moonlight Serenade" (2005). Simon, who had sung these songs since childhood, was the first '70s pop star, before Rod Stewart or Linda Ronstadt, to record a Great American Songbook album with "Torch" (1981).
"I wanted to do original songs but they thought it was safer ... and would sell a certain number of records if I did the standards or lullabies (on the 2007 album "Into White")," she said. "I was creatively directed in that way by very well-meaning people who didn't recognize that a woman of my age has viable thoughts and feelings that people want to hear."
She got her chance when Starbucks' Hear Music label asked her to do an album of originals. She had already been thinking about a Brazilian-influenced album when Grammy-winning songwriter Jimmy Webb, who had co-produced her 1997 CD "Film Noir," unexpectedly called early last year to suggest setting her old songs to Brazilian rhythms.
"I always thought that Carly had a great voice, especially in her low register, that throaty, sexy part of her voice, for that kind of music," said Webb, who contributed the sensuous Jobim-inspired "The Last Samba," for the album. "It took off in a different way because it became time for Carly to create a new project."
"Carly is an indomitable character," said Webb, the album's co-producer. "I sort of see it as an 'I will not go gently' statement really ... a determination to keep movin' and groovin.'"
Simon had never stopped filling her notebook with ideas for lyrics. The Wim Wenders' film "Wings of Desire" inspired the sultry R&B song "So Many People." The tango-flavored "Sangre Dolce" resulted from an encounter in Central Park with a nanny taking care of a wealthy family's baby while longing for her child back in Argentina.
She wrote the slow waltz "Too Soon to Say Goodbye" -- using a title suggested by her close friend Art Buchwald -- to comfort the humorist during the final months before his death in January 2007.
Simon, who became a grandmother last year, was determined to make the album a family affair. She wrote two songs, "Hold Out Your Heart" and "They Just Want You to Be There," to express her strong attachment for her children, Sally, 34, and Ben, 31, both singer-songwriters (Ben sings and plays guitar in her band). She also performs two of their songs, Ben's "Island" about his sister and Sally's "When We're Together."
"They just have such brilliant creativity which I give so much credit to their genetic inputs from their father (James Taylor) who is such a well spring of amazing creativity and brilliance," Simon said.
Simon has begun a series of TV talk show appearances to promote her album, but her acute stage fright and fear of flying have led her to limit her touring.
Since childhood she has always loved to sing in intimate settings and now she wants to work with her surgeon boyfriend. She's already scrubbed up, donned a mask and medical garb several times to comfort children before their operations.
"I hold their hand and sing to them and say that going under anesthesia is not scary at all. 'It's wonderful and I'll be here when you wake up,'" said Simon, who's also been a personal counselor to women with breast cancer. "I just feel so tender toward people and want them to know that I've been scared ... and just to have somebody there who is friendly and loving."