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Former Prince Protégé Kandace Springs Shines at the Dakota

Kandace Springs
Photo: Getty Images

Prince’s shadow still looms large over the Twin Cities music community. Though the high-profile musical tributes aren’t quite as frequent anymore, his legacy still lives on in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. One of the best ways is through the continued success of the young artists he championed. Throughout his final years, the Purple One was always promoting, mentoring, and collaborating with up-and-coming artists.

One of the last artists he worked with also happened to be one of the best. Kandace Springs, an immensely talented young singer-songwriter and piano player from Nashville, was affiliated with Prince in his final years. Since then, she’s signed to Blue Note, recorded two well-received albums, and established herself as a must-see live performer. On Saturday night she returned to the Twin Cities for a pair of prime time shows at the prestigious Dakota.

Backed by only a drummer and bass player, Springs treated the crowd to a dynamic and multi-faceted performance. Though her music mostly leaned towards jazz, it had subtle-yet-undeniable hybridity, incorporating elements of soul, pop, and classical without losing focus. However you define it, the result was gorgeous. The melodies were memorable and the musicianship was tasteful.

What worked best was the balance of singing and playing. While there are many artists who possess one gift or the other, very few are blessed with both to the extent that she is. There aren’t many artists in any genre who can pivot from playing the way she did on the classically inspired “Fix Me” to singing with as much feeling as on her version of “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

She mentioned many artists who influenced her throughout the show. Of course she talked a bit about Prince, but she also mentioned several other inspirations, including but not limited to Chopin, Nina Simone, Eva Cassidy, Regi Wooten, and Norah Jones (with whom she plans to collaborate). All of these and more helped explain the unique musical synthesis onstage at the Dakota. She also mentioned the late Roy Hargrove, who played on an excellent (and understated) track of hers called “Unsophisticated.” This version, like many in the show, would benefit from the sparse setup of the band. The title, albeit unintentionally, was a tad ironic, in that these were indeed very sophisticated songs being executed at a high level by top-notch musicians.

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Other highlights included stellar work on the Rhodes throughout (especially on the opening cover of “People Make the World Go Round”), a surprising and strong assist on vocals from the tour manager on Sade’s “Love is Stronger than Pride,” and occasional-yet-brilliant solos on the upright bass at various points. It was enough to make your jaw drop and your heart melt. She surely won over the audience. I’m sure her set would have made her old mentor smile.

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