Cover albums tend to sort themselves pretty neatly into two separate bins. One is filled with tiresome stacks of uninspired music soon to be filed away and forgotten. The other, smaller pile is made up of those few in which the artist on the cover managed to do something more than parrot their predecessors. Those who wish to belong to the latter group find a way to add a personal touch to their songs, in such a way that each takes on its new performer's characteristics.
At times, singer and pianist Kandace Springs
' previous release, Indigo
(Blue Note, 2018), had an irritatingly generic blend of pop and R&B influences, while her debut two years earlier often fell upon traditional blues vibes. She detours from those paths with her third full-length entry, titled The Women Who Raised Me
, decidedly placing it atop the latter stack.
The album marks a new phase for Springs, who curated a list of songs made famous by the female vocalists who inspired her career. She also recruited a trio comprising guitarist Steve Cardenas
, bassist Scott Colley
, and drummer Clarence Penn
, all of whom share ties to those women.
Their presence provides some validation for The Women Who Raised Me
, which is a mostly acoustic affair. That, combined with the menagerie of high profile guest artists, and wise song choices keeps the album from taking on a quaint tone. There is a crisp purity in her singing throughout and, while Springs avails herself of modern technology, she is not beholden to it.
She excels during songs that challenge her to build to a climax, spending their outset ramping up tension and intensity. "I Put A Spell On You," has her laying the familiar rhythm down on piano while ambling up to the tipping point. Just as Penn's cymbals gather up and crash through both speakers, saxophonist David Sanborn
blows out his solo. It is a perfect example of what the singer is capable of when backed by the right talent. Their dark, heavy take on the prolifically covered song offers a possible glimpse into Springs' future, subverting the expectations of a performer within her genre.
This isn't to say that the album's calmer moments drag. "Pearls" and "The Nearness Of You" feature enough simmering passion to keep listeners engaged. Avishai Cohen's trumpet provides a mournful backdrop for Springs during the latter; she loves to allow a note to wither in her throat, ruthlessly wringing every drop of sensuality from it.
Another obvious vocal highlight is "Angel Eyes," a duet between Springs and Norah Jones
, who is credited as one of the album's eponymous "Women." Neither is heard to overpower the other, and their new rendition sounds more fleshed-out than the one made famous by Ella Fitzgerald
in 1958. This could easily boil down to the benefits of 21st century recording technology, but more likely is that Jones' somewhat downtrodden performance keys very well off the wry, positive tones Springs spends the song crooning.
The pair of tracks featuring Chris Potter
on saxophone, "Gentle Rain" and "Solitude," in addition to her earlier collaboration with David Sanborn, really demonstrate how much stronger the singer is with a horn in the mix. Unfettered by the restraints of tradition or expectation, she stretches her range without pulling too hard, and the addition of brass or woodwinds gives each piece an added touch of sentiment.
Rarely in the modern era of music is one able to simply marvel at the beauty of a singer's voice. So easily distracted by the public persona they sell, the politics they preach, or the awkward impurity of soundboard effects, we find ourselves unable to focus the entirety of our attention upon the same artistic endeavors that got them to the stage in the first place. It is hard to say that anyone in the public eye can shy away from fame in the age of internet video and necessary self-promotion. But Kandace Springs seems content to play to her strengths and take no quarter; the one thing listeners are guaranteed to receive is authenticity.
Devil May Care; Angel Eyes; I Put A Spell On YOu; Pearls; Ex Factor; I Can't Make You Love Me; Gentle Rain; Solitude; The Nearness Of You; What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life; Killing Me Softly; Strange Fruit.