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Seal gets back to basics, and up close and personal

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Seal is singing old classics on his new album “Standards.” (Courtesy James Fawcette)
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Call it an inevitability: His new “Standards” is the album Grammy-winning soul stylist Seal has been threatening to make throughout his 30-year career, with 11 jazzy classics (14 on the deluxe edition) from the swinging Rat Pack era, including “Luck Be a Lady,” “My Funny Valentine” and “It Was a Very Good Year.”

For added authenticity, he recorded in Los Angeles’ historic Capitol Studios — where Frank Sinatra tracked some of the material — backed by some of Old Blue Eyes’ original musicians, including keyboardist Randy Waldman and drummer Greg Fields. “Plus, I was working with a full orchestra,” he adds. “It was incredible, and I really felt the historic spirit of the place.”

Seal, who plays with the San Francisco Symphony this week, specifically wanted to return to songwriting’s halcyon era of simple, straightforward storytelling.

His back-to-basics decision was the indirect result of a personal crisis, brought on by tragic world events (terrorist attacks, mass shootings, proudly overt displays of racism) occurring with alarming regularity.

“All of those things painted a very dark, gloomy, bleak picture, and if you have kids like I do, you’re left thinking, ‘Jesus Christ, is this what we’re leaving for them?’” he says. “So I got pretty depressed. But I refused to buy the notion that we, as a species, have somehow lost our way.”

He began analyzing the way he and his children utilized their smartphones and social media and he came to a stark conclusion: “The biggest problem we face today is, we’ve lost the ability to communicate,” he says, realizing that sounds ironic.

Even though we have access to the latest texting technology, he adds, “Very little dialogue is taking place now, because we all have an agenda. When we text a question like ‘How are you doing?,’ we actually don’t care how they’re doing. So by the time they text back ‘great,’ we’re already on to our actual agenda.”

His solution is to respond to every text with a phone call, to checking on friends in a more personal way.

Another modern pleasantry annoying him is the handshake, a tradition he finds disgusting. He says, “I’ve completely cut out shaking hands. So if you come into contact with me, we are going to hug it out. I’m going to embrace you, look you in the eye, and ask how you’re doing. And I genuinely want to hear your reply.”

He understands that his new approach might ruffle a few feathers, but says, “Too bad!”

Either by “Standards,” or in person, he says “We’re going to force some kind of emotional reaction, and we will connect. Even though some people may feel like their space is being invaded.”

IF YOU GO

Seal, with San Francisco Symphony

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday Nov. 30
Tickets: $20 to $125 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org

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