This writer witnessed the extraordinary pianist/vocalist Kandace Springs perform some of these songs in her exquisite set at last year’s Newport Jazz Festival so this kind of album is highly anticipated, at least in these quarters. The Women Who Raised Me features songs associated with, in order of the album sequence – Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Sade, Lauryn Hill, Bonnie Raitt, Astrud Gilberto, Carmen McRae, Norah Jones, Dusty Springfield, Roberta Flack, and Billie Holiday. It’s no accident that about half of them are pianists/vocalists too.
You may have already heard her version and video of “Pearls” from Sade. That track features her core band of Steve Cardenas on guitar, Scott Colley on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums with guest Avishai Cohen on trumpet. Several other high profile guests grace many of the other tracks on this album of covers, Featured guests in addition to Cohen include Christian McBride (“Devil May Care”), Norah Jones (in duet on “Angel Eyes”), David Sanborn (“I Put a Spell on You”), Elena Pinderhughes (“Ex-Factor”) and Chris Potter (“Gentle Rain” and “Solitude”). Also, since we mentioned videos, there is a short YouTube documentary with the same title as the album.
As her former mentor Prince so eloquently stated about Springs’ “voice that can melt snow,” she has one of the smoothest, elegantly sultry voices of any vocalist, a real enchantress. She can sing in many styles but has distilled these voices into her own signature style, inspired by all mentioned and especially her “ultimate inspiration,” Norah Jones. “This is an album I’ve been wanting to make forever,” says Springs. “It really expresses my love for all of these singers and gratitude for what they gave me. Each taught me something different and all of those lessons combined to make me who I am now.” Springs sings and plays piano in this album that was tracked live with the core band mentioned. She had a dream come true as well as one of the standout tracks has her singing along with Norah Jones on the Ella Fitzgerald “Angel Eyes.”
Springs has written anecdotes and descriptions of each choice in the liners, so we will kindly excerpt a few.
Nina Simone, “I Put A Spell On You” – “I remember my dad playing Nina’s records around the house and telling me that I should listen and learn from her because she played classical as well as jazz. The first record I heard was in French, “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” I didn’t like her voice at first, it seemed strange to me, but so unique and haunting, I couldn’t forget it and I kept coming back to her…I wanted to put classical influences into it, because she was so brilliant at that, and one day I was playing Moonlight Sonata and somebody said “you could sing ‘I Put A Spell On You’ to that!” and I tried it and it worked so well, that was it! I had just met David Sanborn a month before we were recording, and I knew he would be perfect for this record, and he came in and just killed it.”
Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – “… I always got a lot of tips playing Bonnie! Then, when I got the chance to audition for Don Was at Blue Note, I found out the day before that he was the producer of the original record! I got so nervous, but I played, and he loved it, so that was a great day for me.”
Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit” – She performs this as the final track alone at the piano. I got into Billie Holiday a little later than a lot of the other singers who influenced me. It was actually by listening to “Strange Fruit” years later, when I was starting to make my first album, that I began to really appreciate how great she is. I think the lyrics of the song is what got to me first and thinking about what she must have gone through in her life, I felt like I could feel all of that when she sang. That’s what I’ve learned from her – that nothing is more important than singing from the heart.”
Diana Krall, “Devil May Care” – Christian McBride guests on bass, having played on Krall’s original recording of this tune. Springs comments, “ My dad used to give me a CD for every Christmas, and one it was Diana Krall, it was her album called When I Look In Your Eyes, and that was a big moment when I heard her. She was really the only one of the artists on this album that influenced me as a pianist as well as a singer. I just love her touch, and her elegance on the piano. And, of course, her singing is ultra-cool – she’s the opposite of flashy, in a good way. So, I learned a lot from that too. And now we’ve become friends, which is one of the most amazing parts of being an artist, actually meeting your idols!”
Rather obviously, there are eight more of these descriptions, complete ones too, that you can access when you get the album. Also, even though we didn’t call it out, suffice to say that Springs does Roberta Flack better than any other interpreter as evidenced by “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” one of three or four here that she performed in her memorable Newport Jazz set. If you are fortunate enough to catch her live (whenever that may be) she will likely do Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” too. Those two alone are worth the price of admission.
Please note also that the project was produced by Larry Klein, who produced so many wonderful records for Joni Mitchell, Shawn Colvin, Herbie Hancock, and so many others, as if you need an additional stamp of approval. This album is deservedly getting plenty of buzz. It’s a “must hear.”