Dear Abbey

The magnificent Abbey Lincoln tackles the most vital songbook yet: her own

A militant history, and unconcealed vulnerability
photo: Jean-Marc Lubrano
A militant history, and unconcealed vulnerability

Details

Abbey Lincoln
Abbey Sings Abbey
Verve

Kendra Shank
A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook
Challenge

In showing that Lincoln has written more good songs than the dozen on Abbey Sings Abbey, Kendra Shank's tribute A Spirit Free inadvertently proves that Lincoln's only true interpreter is Lincoln herself. Because her approach is so personal and straightforward—so close to her speaking voice—imitation is out of the question. This forces anyone who would cover her to take a novel approach, which is the only possible justification for the quasi-Navajo chanting with which Shank (sounding more like Sheila Jordan's disciple than Lincoln's) begins both "The Music Is the Magic" and "Throw It Away." The latter's lyrics were inspired by Hexagram 25 of the I Ching, and Shank might think she's restoring them to their mystical origins. But whereas delivered by Lincoln, the lines "'Cause you can never lose a thing/If it belongs to you" come off as hard-boiled as Clive Owen's "Hold on tightly, let go lightly" in Croupier, Shank just sounds sappy. She has a big, plum voice not unlike Linda Ronstadt's, and she swings—she's in her element on a song like "I've Got Thunder (and It Rings)," where momentum is all. But there's a world of difference in hearing the valediction "Hold the curtain open, it's time to take a bow"—from "Being Me," which closes both albums—delivered by a woman in her seventies and by one still in her forties. It's a sentiment too big for Shank, in a way that has nothing to do with the size of her voice.

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