Album Review: “A Lady With A Song—Amber Weekes Celebrates Nancy Wilson”

June 12, 2024

When singer Nancy Wilson (1937-2018) passed, she left behind a legacy of classic recordings, unforgettable concert performances, appearances in film and television, and a career that will inspire singers for generations. She recorded more than 70 albums and was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, winning the coveted prize three times. In a career of more than 50 years, she sang blues, jazz, R&B, pop, and soul, but liked to refer to herself as a “song stylist.”  Her recordings have become part of the fabric of not only American music, but of American culture. 

Amber Weekes is a singer of newer vintage, carrying on Wilson’s tradition of class, style and musical artistry. On her new album, A Lady with a Song: Amber Weekes Celebrates Nancy Wilson, she pays tribute to one of her inspirations, while at the same time, taking another step in her remarkably assured and thrilling career—revealing and deepening her own unique voice while paying homage to a musical titan.  Surrounding herself with some of the current music scene’s best musicians, she remains undaunted by the singular style that Wilson possessed and manages to personalize even the most familiar of the material with her beautiful expressive voice, and thoughtful intelligent phrasing.  

“Gentleman Friend” (Arnold B. Horwitt, Richard Lewine) is the perfect opener, swung with an innocent, joyous enthusiasm that is a surprisingly effective alternative to the somewhat edgier, more insinuating feel of Wilson’s original. The great Russell Malone’s guitar lifts the track even higher.  A slightly Latin feel softens the edges of “Save Your Love for Me” (Buddy Johnson), and her effervescent vocal is beautifully echoed in Gerald Albright’s sensational saxophone. An unexpected gentleness on “A Lady with a Song” (Ken Hirsch, L. Smokey Bates) removes the somewhat stentorian, valedictory excesses that Wilson, late in her career, brought to her version and gives the song a second and quite welcoming life. Ray Monteiro and Mike Cordone on trumpet provide a cushiony cloud on which she rests her vocal. 

A real treat is the inclusion of one of my favorite bits of Nancy Wilson special material, “Ten Good Years” (Martin Charnin, Luther Henderson); Weekes has a ball with the wordplay and makes it a low-key tour-de-force of comedic acting. “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” (Harry M. Woods) belongs to many, many singers, and Wilson was certainly one of the most memorable owners; Weekes stakes her own claim with a slower than usual gait galvanized halfway through by Malone’s driving guitar. Often this song is sung like a runaway train to which a singer is hanging on for dear life, but Weekes stays in complete control down to the bluesy wail at the close. The dreaminess of “Midnight Sun” (Lionel Hampton, Sonny Burke, Johnny Mercer) is given the perfect bit of spine in crisply delivered poetry of the lyrics underscored by Justo Almario’s flute. 

Irving Berlin’s “Suppertime” is a stand-out track; Andy Langham’s majestic piano and producer Mark Cargill’s dramatic violin give the perfect underscoring to the singer’s searing lament, down to a daring and quite effective spoken word portion. Cargill’s violin shines once again along with Paul Jackson Jr’.s guitar, on “Wave” (Antônio Carlos Jobim), adding a buoyant rhythm to the singer’s bossa driven vocal; her version rivals any I have heard before.  Any tribute to Nancy Wilson lives or dies on “Guess Who I Saw Today” (Murray Grand), and Weekes’s refreshingly underplayed reading lives quite nicely, forsaking melodrama for bittersweet awareness.  The raucous classic “I’m Always Drunk in San Francisco” (Tommy Wolf), driven by Rashawn Ross’s inspired trumpet and Tony Campodonico’s slow-burn piano allows the singer to get the closest to the bluesy side of Nancy Wilson’s sound.  A sweet and swinging “The Best is Yet to Come” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh) is followed by a gorgeous, beautifully sustained ballad take on “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” (André Previn, Dory Previn) that is simply stunning. A perfect postscript to the album is the rarest of the song choices, “Wasn’t It Wonderful” (Ed Pola, George Wile), a swirling jazz waltz that left me wanting more.

It is a testament to the talent of Amber Weekes that I didn’t think of Nancy Wilson’s vocals as she presented so many signature songs and invested each one with so much personality and style. Yet, at the same time, I thought of Nancy Wilson the legend throughout this loving and wonderfully entertaining tribute.  What more could one ask for?



About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”