Prince always had an eye for talent. His latest – and last – could prove to be one of his greatest.
He discovered her on a YouTube video playing a version of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me.” Prince reached out to her via Twitter and invited her to Paisley Park, where she performed at his celebration for the 30th anniversary of “Purple Rain” in 2014.
Kandace Springs released her debut album on Blue Note, “Soul Eyes,” last month. But Prince heard it in January, she explained Thursday night at the Dakota Jazz Club. She’d followed his advice to make a technology-free record.
The gauzy, jazzy, soulful album is very good. The 27-year-old Nashville singer-pianist’s performance at the Dakota was far better. In a word, a knockout.
Performing to a packed house (surprising for a first-timer, announced Dakota proprietor Lowell Pickett when introducing her), Springs played the Purple card – lovingly so. Not only did she have a portrait of Prince placed prominently on her grand piano, she was wearing a purple dress, sporting a Prince glyph on her white Converse high tops (she drew them on pre-show) and styling in a fringed leather jacket he gave her (it was actually his).
Springs talked about the late Minnesota icon from the get-go, mentioning that the opening number, “Novocaine Heart,” was his favorite from her album. She recalled how he’d buy out a movie theater in Chanhassen. She told a story about the jacket she was wearing.
Her friendly, open, slightly excitable personality was a welcome complement to her quiet singer-songwriter piano music.
What the album, stylishly produced by Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot), doesn’t amply demonstrate is the depth and breadth of her musicality. She has chops and instincts beyond her years.
It wasn’t just the sneaky classical flourishes of Chopin and Rachmaninoff or her unerring vocal pitch or her ability to incorporate blues, jazz, folk, pop, soul and even a little church in the same song or her way with standards or her reimagining songs by Prince, Sam Smith and War.
Springs was even bold enough to bring out trumpeter Dan Eikmeier, who is the Dakota’s artist relations manager, as a guest on the original tune “Too Good To Last,” which features the great New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard on the recording. Springs and her three musicians just talked through the arrangement onstage before playing. Drummer Dylan Tracy asked if he could have a solo. The performance was organic, spontaneous and so satisfying – so much like a Prince moment.
Recalling at times Alicia Keys and Dionne Warwick, Springs manifested superior vocal skills, showcasing her scat, falsetto, sexy midrange and terrific sense of dynamics and improvisation.
Although she certainly has the ability, Springs never stretched out as an instrumentalist, with all solos by her (and the drummer and bassist) being economical. The goal seemed to be to keep most everything in the sultry, seductive vibe. No need for anything too energetic or aggressive. She even slowed War’s “The World Is a Ghetto” to a blissed out jazz meditation.
Recording for the same label that launched Norah Jones to stardom, Springs clearly seems willing to essay the pop game. “Talk to Me” and “Neither Old nor Young,” both written by Jesse Harris who penned hits for Jones, felt very Burt Bacharach. “Novocaine Heart” came across like breezy, Brazilian Bacharach. “Place to Hide” could have passed for Whitney Houston at her most intimate.
But it was the way Springs interpreted famous songs that impressed the most. She cast “Angel Eyes” as slow, deliberate and so sexy. John Coltrane’s “Soul Eyes” was languid, sultry and so right. She applied an elegance to the Oscar Peterson instrumental “Chicago Blues.” “The Nearness of You” never sounded more enticing.
Springs brought a soulful edge to “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” the Bonnie Raitt hit, and a mesmerizing beauty to Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.” Her reading of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” wrapped listeners in a cuddlyembrace, ending with a little jazzy vocal riffing capped by a big, pure note.
Springs won over Prince with a 2 minute, 30 second video. In 95 minutes, she seduced a Twin Cities audience with one of the most musical, alluring and remarkable debut performances in memory.