Performing a tribute to a great artist is always a tricky business. You don’t want to imitate, but you do want to show how much you’ve been inspired by the artist you’re celebrating. You're thanking the artist for all the echoes of the artist in your own voice. And that’s what so lovingly resounds in the voice of Lauren Kinhan on A Sleepin’ Bee, her tribute to Nancy Wilson.
Nancy Wilson is a unique stylist as a singer. One hallmark is how she’d criss-cross singing a melody purely while also speaking especially dramatic moments of a lyric. She’s telling you a story, most often telling you how much she loves you — even when, singing her signature song, she’s telling you how much you’ve broken her heart. “Guess Who I Saw Today?” is the most rhetorical of all musical questions. Though she sounds matter-of-fact in the story she’s telling, you can hear the tears welling — and that she’s holding back a scream.
Lauren Kinhan does not at all imitate Nancy Wilson on the new album — but you can hear the echoes. When she sings that greatest of Nancy’s hits, Lauren is much more mournful than angry. That dagger that Nancy is twisting is as much about to strike Lauren's own heart as the heart of “you” she saw today.
Half the songs on A Sleepin’ Bee come from a masterpiece of jazz and song, the album Nancy recorded with Cannonball Adderley, the album that thrilled Lauren as a child. “I remember being 7 or 8,” says Lauren, "staring at the cover of this beautiful woman in a yellow dress and connecting with the songs, the arrangements and the bite of her tone.” She’s re-created the arrangements in her own ways, but Nancy’s “bite” certainly comes through. Nancy sings Frank Loesser’s “Never Will I Marry” with Cannonball at a quicker tempo and much more joyously than Lauren’s much more seductively teasing come-on. Nancy sings Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love For Me” more longingly and more hauntingly than Lauren’s much more thoughtful (and convincing) plea to be loved. Nancy always has said that you can always hear the cry of Jimmy Scott in her voice. And on A Sleepin’ Bee, though you don't hear, imitatively, the sound of Nancy Wilson, you can enjoy plenty of Nancy’s style echoing in the singing of Lauren Kinhan.
1) Let's Live Again
2) Guess Who I Saw Today
3) A Sleepin' Bee
4) (You Don't Know) How Glad I Am
5) Never Will I Marry
6) Save Your Love For Me
7) The Old Country/Passion Flower
8) Born To be Blue
9) You Don't Know What Love Is
10) Happy Talk