Singer Abbey Lincoln has been persuasive in her recordings over the past few years, but in her latest release, “A Turtle’s Dream,” she attains a new expressive depth and ardor. Probably the best recording of her career, “A Turtle’s Dream” documents an artist who has pared down her means and her message to their essence. Not a note is wasted, not a phrase is unnecessary in this dark, brooding and elegiac album. The plaintive lines and deep-amber colorings she brings to the title track, the profound lyric-reading and searing climax she achieves in “Down Here Below,” the mood of reverie and awe she expresses in “Nature Boy” epitomize this album’s haunting appeal. Not since Billie Holiday’s sublime final recordings has a female jazz vocalist expressed pain and yearning so eloquently.
Born in Chicago but raised in Michigan, Lincoln was one of many singers influenced byBillie Holiday. She often visited the Blue Note jazz club in New York City. Her debut album, Abbey Lincoln’s Affair – A Story of a Girl in Love, was followed by a series of albums for Riverside Records. In 1960 she sang on Max Roach’s landmark civil rights-themed recording, We Insist! Lincoln’s lyrics were often connected to the civil rights movement in America.
During the 1980s, Lincoln’s creative output was smaller and she released only a few albums during that decade. Her song “For All We Know” is featured in the 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. During the 1990s and until her death, however, she fulfilled a 10-album contract with Verve Records.
The release of A Turtle’s Dream continued Abbey Lincoln’s ’90s resurgence. As with her preceding Verve releases, A Turtle’s Dream features notable guest musicians (including Pat Metheny, Kenny Baron, and Lucky Peterson), all of whom add grace to the proceedings. Her core backing trio comprises Rodney Kendrick on piano, Charlie Haden on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums. The set features primarily her originals, along with a pair of covers, including Eben Ahbez’s “Nature Boy.” The opening song, “Throw It Away,” has a melancholy resonance that is utterly inviting as Lincoln pours herself into the lyrics with deep passion and subtle dramatics. The addition of a string section on a couple of numbers–especially “Down Here Below”–makes for some elegant blues.