On her first two albums, Nashville pianist/vocalist Kandace Springs focused on songs of recent vintage by leading pop/jazz composers like Jesse Harris and tunes that she had a hand in writing. Those were winning projects that introduced a serious talent, but her new release The Women Who Raised Me reveals quite a bit more of this self-possessed artist with a honey-brandied tone. The third time’s definitely the charm for Springs, a musician who effortlessly absorbs and recasts songs associated with her formative female vocal influences.
Part of what makes the concept so rewarding is that she embraces Ella, Sarah, and Carmen as well as Sade, Lauryn Hill, and Norah Jones. Almost every track features a well-paired guest artist, starting with an opening hat-tip to Diana Krall propelled by Christian McBride’s expert bass. Springs’ voice inhabits the brisk arrangement of Bob Dorough’s “Devil May Care” so snugly that it’ll belong to her for the foreseeable future. Norah Jones takes the opening line on their “Angel Eyes” duet and together they turn up the pathos on the ultimate sad-sack torch song. It’s a beguiling twist at the end when they take the song to church, raising unanticipated questions about the nature of the titular angel.
On the contemporary side, Springs brings the requisite ache to Sade’s lament “Pearls,” an abjectly despondent vibe exponentially enhanced by Avishai Cohen’s trumpet. And it might be heretical, but I find her cool, stripped-down take on Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” more engaging than the original, a sorrowful but triumphant declaration graced by Elena Pinderhughes’ ethereal flute work. Chris Potter’s tenor sax adds a fistful of earth to “Gentle Rain,” Springs’ gorgeous tribute to Astrud Gilberto and one of the project’s standout tracks. Saving her devastating Lady Day tribute for the unornamented closer, Springs is accompanied only by her keyboards on “Strange Fruit,” a song that retains its gut-punch power.