From the first second of Kandace Springs‘ new album – as those warm, hand-plucked bass notes fill the air – you know you've arrived at something different. And once she starts singing, well, it's pretty clear The Women Who Raised Me exists apart from the normal rules that govern space, time, and talent. While 2018's Indigo album found the Nashville singer-pianist using modern production to bend sound into new genre forms in collaboration with Karriem Riggins, this set adheres sonically to jazz while Springs travels back and forth across a near-century of music. While the feel is as rich and complex as our host's voice, the concept is simple. Springs covers the women who inspired her while she was growing up, putting her own spin on songs associated with a dozen of the greatest female vocalists of all-time.
While the project was personal – practically a calling – for Springs, it's also an intimate showcase for her abilities. Produced by Larry Klein – who also produced Springs' 2016 album Soul Eyes – the album captures Springs in the studio with a spare but able band who all have ties to the artists honored here: guitarist Steve Cardenas (Norah Jones), bassist Scott Colley (Carmen McRae), and drummer Clarence Penn (Diana Krall). They played live, underscoring the power of Springs‘ voice and hands, as well as her gift for moving between singers‘ intonations and legacies while staying true to herself. Major influence Norah Jonestrades smoke-ringed verses on Ella Fitzgerald's "Angel Eyes" as Jones‘ Steinway dances with Springs‘ Wurly. Jones isn't the only guest. It's Christian McBride's bass that kicks off the album, in fact, on Springs‘ swinging cover of "Devil May Care" by Diana Krall. And Springs incorporates "Moonlight Sonata" into her rousing version of "I Put a Spell on You," as David Sanborn blows fiery alto sax.
Additional influences are felt throughout including Astrud Gilberto with her "tone that's so airy and pure" ("Gentle Rain"), Carmen McRae, whose "sense of harmony is deeper than any other jazz singer's" ("Solitude"), Sade's uncanny ability to transmit powerful emotion ("Pearls") and Lauryn Hill's vocal textures and "diva queen" independence ("Ex-Factor"). But even as those mighty influences are felt – and players like trumpeter Avishai Cohen; flutist Elena Pinderhughes, and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter pop in – The Women Who Raised Meremains unmistakably Springs‘ vision. That fact becomes especially clear during closing couplet. First, Springs and her band strike up a mellow groove with their take on Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly." But as the song nears its end, we're treated to a gigantic unfurling psychedelic finale, which sets the stage for the next song's necessary minimalism. The closing number is one that truly cannot be followed: "Strange Fruit." For this, it's just Springs and her trusty Rhodes, crying out all of that pain and beauty, reminding us of the mortal danger inherent in forgetting our past.