If you’re already a fan of Boston-based chanteuse Cassandre McKinley, much of this rich, sensual salute to the music of Marvin Gaye might ignite a feeling of déjà vu. Three years ago, the resourceful McKinley set about to self-release a Gaye tribute, picking from the cream of Massachusetts players to assemble a sextet and laying down 10 tracks either written by the Motown legend or strongly associated with him. It was entitled Baring the Soul and, like most self-managed releases, failed to generate anywhere near the attention it deserved. Now, MAXJAZZ has taken those 10 tracks, re-recorded one (a gently sizzling “Your Precious Love,” crafted in homage to Gaye and his frequent mid-’60s partner Tammi Terrell, with Michael Payette replacing McKinley’s original vocal helpmate, John Pagano) and added four (including a soulful cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday,” which, despite the significantly greater popularity of the title tune, was the true centerpiece of Gaye’s often-overlooked That’s the Way Love Is from 1970).
Wisely, given her warm, caramel-flavored voice—rather like Carole King via Nancy Wilson, with a layer of Aretha Franklin icing—McKinley never attempts to get down to Gaye’s inimitable nitty-gritty. Instead, she cleverly inverts the essence of each tune, re-channeling them from a distinctly female perspective. So, her “Trouble Man” is less rumble and more sass, “I Want You” reverberates with a softly yearning starriness (sounding, with its easy samba vibe, like it was freshly plucked from the Brasil ’66 songbook) and, most notably, the straining sexual heat of Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” is transformed into five-and-a-half minutes of teasing foreplay.