While she was touring North America in support of her Grammy-winning 2008 album, 19, R&B singer Adele says a whole new world of musical inspiration opened up for her after a friend introduced her to a country legend. "I got addicted to this Wanda Jackson hits album," says the singer. "She's so cheeky and so raunchy. She's kind of like the female Elvis: really sexual, not afraid to embarrass herself."
It wasn't just Jackson's music she discovered: Traveling extensively in the South for the first time, she found herself drawn to American country music, in general. ("I never was a fan of it growing up, because we don't really have it in England.") Back home in London last fall, Adele began incorporating those new influences — Jackson, Alison Krauss, Lady Antebellum, in particular — into songs like "Rolling in the Deep," where her voice takes on a hint of Jackson's dirty-blues growl. "I wanted the songs not to have anything glittery or glamorous about them, like an organic tapestry rather than like a Gaga album," says the 21-year-old singer. "I mean, I love Gaga, but I didn't want to get wrapped up in all that European dance music."
Instead, Adele headed west, to Malibu's Shangri La Studios, to work with producer Rick Rubin on her second disc, due out in September. "I was expecting it to be really difficult and that I would be quite scared the whole time, being in his company," she says. "But I've never been so chilled out in my life. Rick is the calmest person I've ever met. We would jam out a song for a while, and then see what we had."
She had support from a crack session band, including bassist Pino Palladino, keyboard player James Poyser, guitarists Matt Sweeney and Smokey Hormel, and drummer Chris Dave, who do a masterful job augmenting Adele's melodies without intruding on them. "It's such an honest record, and I'm really moved by it," she says. "It's not hidden behind anything, and even though that's what I wanted, I was a little bit scared of it. It makes me want to burst out crying whenever I hear it."