Dear Abbey: The Music of Abbey Lincoln
Newcomers to vocalist Teri Roiger might, quite fairly, presume she is attempting to mimic Abbey Lincoln across this tribute album’s 13 tracks. But the vocal resemblance is no put-on: Roiger’s phrasing—which, in turn, demonstrates how big a debt Lincoln’s phrasing owed to Billie Holiday—and her engagingly raspy, crushed-velvet sound are genuinely similar.
Lincoln was always the straightest of shooters: no teasing, no modesty, no evasiveness. Like Nina Simone, she tackled songs, particularly her own, with unflinching honesty and hard-won wisdom. Roiger evinces the same gut-level sincerity, though she tends to do so with a cunning coyness. It’s as if Lincoln is being filtered through Peggy Lee and, for the most part, it works refreshingly well. The dreaminess she lends to “When I’m Called Home,” for instance, is powerfully moving, as is the sagacious warmth of her “You Gotta Pay the Band.”
The gap between Roiger and Lincoln can seem tremendously narrow—Roiger shapes “The World Is Falling Down” around a half-smile rather than a half-frown, and casts “Throw It Away” a subtle shade darker than Lincoln did—yet the contrast between the two singers is, in its understated imaginativeness, in fact impressively deep. The album’s interpretive luster isn’t solely Roiger’s achievement, however. Pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist John Menegon and drummer Steve Williams prove equally astute co-conspirators, masterfully augmented by Greg Osby’s alto sax on five tracks, including a hauntingly beautiful “First Song.”