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Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey

It’s easy to fault this songbook collection for what it doesn’t contain. The short list would have to include “Story of My Father,” “Devil’s Got Your Tongue” and “I Got Thunder (And It Rings).” Among Abbey Lincoln’s finest songs, these tunes are conspicuously absent here, bumped aside by a few others that aren’t nearly as distinctive or revealing.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping Lincoln from recording another volume down the road, with or without the same cozy ensemble and the artful touch of Gil Goldstein, who contributes three evocative cello and accordion arrangements. It has to be said, though, that Lincoln’s voice isn’t what it once was, and that listeners with access to the original recordings may be tempted to compile their own anthology.

What sets apart this collection are the arrangements, which often emphasize the guitar work of Larry Campbell, best known for his extensive road work with Bob Dylan, and some textured atmospherics reminiscent of Cassandra Wilson’s work with helmsman Craig Street. Beginning with the lyric Lincoln wrote for “Monk’s Blues,” it’s clear that producers Jay Newland and Jean-Philipe Allard intend to present her songbook in a different, dusky light.

The 12-bar blues features Campbell playing slide on a steel guitar, and subsequent tracks find him playing acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and lap steel. Though Lincoln’s voice is a fragile instrument these days, it’s still profoundly soulful and moving. Certainly anyone looking for confirmation of her status as a great jazz poet-philosopher will find it here, particularly when she revisits “Throw It Away,” “Bird Alone,” “The World is Falling Down” and “Love Has Gone Away.”

Originally Published