Think back to the great female singers who could meld R&B, blues, pop, and jazz into one coherent statement and likely the names Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and Nora Jones come to mind. Enter emerging Nashville-based talent Kandace Springs, only in her late twenties, making her second album on the Blue Note label. She gives us sultry R&B (“Piece of Me”), jazz ballads (“Unsophisticated”featuring Roy Hargrove) and pop songs like “Breakdown” and “Don’t Need The Real Thing.” It’s a mix of originals and covers.
Springs comments on her approach, “What would Nina Simone do if she had the technology of today? You could never put Nina in a box – she would do a blues followed by a classical piece, a jazz standard and then a Beatles cover. This LP took a lot of inspiration from that – it’s a mix of everything that I am.” Like Springs, who draws much of her musical inspiration from her father, Scat Springs, a well respected session singer in Nashville; her main producer, Karriem Riggins has a noted father, Emmanuel, who played keyboards with Grant Green and others. The younger Riggins is a producer in hip hop and rap, as well as an in-demand jazz drummer. He tours with Diana Krall. So, he’s adept at crossing genres too. Riggins produced all but two of the tracks with additional production by Jamie Hartman (Rag ‘n Bone Man), Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, Corrine Bailey Rae), and Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken (Rhianna).
Kandace got a boost in her career from the late Prince who said that she “has a voice that could melt snow’ after hearing her 2014 cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” He invited her to perform at the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain, subsequently becoming a mentor to her. Listen closely and you’ll hear her nod to Prince in “Fix Me.” She matches, maybe even exceeds Roberta Flack, on her devastating take on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” She reveals her command of jazz phrasing on “Unsophisticated,” with a solo from trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and has her father join her on the closing “Simple Things.”
Larry Klein, noted producer for Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock, among others, produced Springs’ previous album and had this to say, “In this era, in which flash and hunger for fame is often equated with talent, she’s that rare person who sings and plays because that is what she needs to do in life,” he says. “When I first heard Kandace, I was sold after hearing one song. Her smoky voice coupled with a sense of phrasing way beyond her years, and her angular way of accompanying herself on piano grabbed me right away.”
The minimal and elegant arrangements illuminate her sensuous voice, as she and Riggins aimed for an organic sound that, according to Springs, takes its cue from Norah Jones’ 2002 Blue Note debut, Come Away With Me. Riggins tracked his drum parts in various studios while on tour with Krall. He claims it’s all built around the songwriting and her expressive piano work. Framing Springs’ voice in an uncluttered way allows her honey alto voice to assume center stage. It’s an amazingly beautiful and touching instrument. She sounds so effortless, natural, and personally invested in the music. Chances are you’ll be uttering “OMG” several times when listening.
Just a few words on Springs’ backstory are in order. Rogers and Sturken, who are best known for discovering Rhianna as a teenager, heard a Springs demo tape when Kandace was only 17. Her family felt it was too soon to pursue a recording career at that age. Springs took to parking cars by day and playing piano in hotel lounges at night. She wanted to pursue her love for cars by going to automotive design school, but her mother then redirected her back to Rogers and Sturken. After moving to New York, she eventually auditioned with Blue Note President Don Was in Los Angeles, converting him with a performance of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (the original of which he produced). Perhaps that was a strategically clever move on her part
Buoyed by the success of her 2016 Blue Note debut, Soul Eyes, Springs proves again to be one of today’s best voices. Even better, she’s literally just getting started.