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 their echoes 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.
On the most recent Singers Unlimited, Lauren talked with me that album and sang in the studio with pianist Andy Ezrin. She’ll perform with Ezrin, bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Matt Wilson on Wednesday evening at her alma mater, the Berklee College of Music, and the music will stream live on The Checkout with Simon Rentner at wbgo.org.
Half the songs on A Sleepin’ Bee come from a masterpiece: the album that Nancy Wilson recorded with Cannonball Adderley, which thrilled Lauren as a child. “I remember being 7 or 8,” she says, "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 those arrangements in her own ways, but Nancy’s “bite” certainly comes through. You can hear the anger in her broken heart when Nancy sings her most iconic song, “Guess Who I Saw Today?” Lauren’s version is much more mournful than angry. And Nancy sings Frank Loesser’s “Never Will I Marry” with Cannonball at a quicker tempo, and much more joyously, than Lauren’s more seductive and teasing come-on. And Nancy sings Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love For Me” with Cannonball more longingly and hauntingly than Lauren’s much more thoughtful (and convincing) plea to be loved.