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Kendra Shank: A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook

Just as I don’t understand the need to wait until someone is dead to pay homage, I’ve never quite comprehended why, when shaping a tribute album, an artist would, or should, feel the need to try and echo the person they’re honoring. So, bravo to Kendra Shank on both counts.

Shank, eager to salute her longtime friend Abbey Lincoln while the living legend was still, well, living, couldn’t duplicate Lincoln’s vocal style, even if she wanted to (where Lincoln is very much of the Billie Holiday school, Shank, who cut her musical teeth on folk and folk-rock, suggests the rounder, more robust sound of, say, a Linda Ronstadt). Nor, to her credit, does she want to, rightly pointing out that if you desire to listen to Abbey Lincoln, attend a Lincoln concert or buy a Lincoln album. Instead, her goal with A Spirit Free is, excuse the irony, to capture the spirit of Lincoln the composer, choosing 11 personal favorites from her hero and mentor’s list of more than 100 compositions. Again, bravo.

Lincoln songs are finding their way into more and more singers’ repertories, including those of Cassandra Wilson, Sheila Jordan, Freddy Cole and Chris McNulty. Never before, though, has anyone attempted an entire disc. In doing so, she not only provides sweeping edification of Lincoln’s immense ability to weave stories of warmth, majesty and, most important, empowerment, but demonstrates just how skilled an interpreter of such gloriously valuable messages Shank is.

Originally Published