Cassandre McKinley – Baring the Soul: The Music of Marvin Gaye

Cassandre McKinley
Baring the Soul: The Music of Marvin Gaye
(Drexi Records – 2004)
by D. Kevin McNeir
Having grown up to the music of Motown legend Marvin Gaye, and even being raised for a while in his own home because my babysitter also sat for his own children, I have always maintained a real penchant for Gaye—both the man and his music.

So you can imagine that I was a bit leery when I heard that the latest release by vocalist Cassandre “Cass” McKinley, a Boston Conservatory of Music graduate, who at one time didn’t know if she wanted to be a singer or a dancer, was a tribute to a man who in my child’s memory was just about as close as one could get to God—next to my Dad, of course.

Clearly objectivity was lacking as I first began to explore this artist’s effort to pay homage to Gaye—his music, his writing and his various collaborations. “Whenever I listen to Marvin Gaye, I get shivers—his voice speaks to me on many levels,” she writes. “At times, I feel this amazing vulnerability within me—and then, moments later, I feel empowered.”

But as I listened with care I slowly began to realize that McKinley was truly inspired as she moves effortlessly through the discography of Gaye while maintaining the sound and style that has become her trademark.

And perhaps that was the greater task for this clearly gifted jazz vocalist—maintaining her own voice—her own sound and style—which seeking to approach the work of one of the greatest singers of all time.

“I love the freedom that comes with singing jazz,” she further writes. “Although there is still a form to the music. It can move and bend—it all depends on what’s inside the soul and how you happen to apply it.”

The CD begins with Gaye’s “Trouble Man” on which McKinley is skillfully accompanied by Brad Hatfield on piano. As the song moves to the refrain the rest of the band joins and finally at its conclusion, only one voice is heard—the drummer’s rim shot.

What she does with “I Want You” is just magical—it’s the heart of Gaye but with the vocal inflections of Dinah (Washington) or perhaps Nancy (Wilson). And with tenderness Steven Angellis adds a cleverly arranged “voice” on the guitar. But there are two cuts that you don’t want to miss on this CD. The first is “If This World Were Mine,” a duet originally performed by Gaye and his “on stage love” (and according to some reports his off stage love interest as well) Tammi Terrell on which McKinley is joined by the equally talented vocalist John Pagano. The second is one which only the most ardent Gaye fan will even remember, “Til Tomorrow”—a beautiful and moving song which “Cass” makes her own. On this one she is accompanied by Dino Govoni, a young tenor saxophone player who is already beginning to make his mark in the world of jazz.

Sometimes McKinley interprets the music in such a manner that you think you’re in a Louisiana speakeasy while at other times it’s almost like a song made for an old-fashioned hoe down in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky. And yet the spirit of Marvin Gaye is still present. “You done good sister.” Listen for yourself, but from this writer’s perspective, Brother Marvin would approve.