After a solid showing with her 2012 debut album Banshee, soul-inflected singer Kendra Morris has gone all in with that most music-geek, history-minded of moves: a covers album. It’s a fitting if well-precedented turn for an up-and-coming performer looking to draw in more attention by showing how her own qualities can transform already familiar standards. Yet while there’s no doubting her formidable chops — think Adele if she angled for hook duty on the fuzzed-out psych-funk records of Adrian Younge — Mockingbird is an intriguing move for more reasons than just its status as a showcase for her satin-razor voice.
For one thing, her band has the Motown-’71 vibe down to a T, replete with luxurious strings, Coffey-colored fuzz guitar and a breakbeat-goldmine rhythm section. More significantly, Morris’s choice of songs is not just wide-ranging and knowledgeable but hell bent on finding the vintage soul undercurrents in just about anything. She’s savvy enough to put the Charmels’ Stax/Volt “C.R.E.A.M.” sample-source “As Long as I’ve Got You” through its smoky paces, or to fuse the Dionne Warwick and Isaac Hayes versions of “Walk on By.” She also conjures up the chitlin-circuit undercurrents of ’70s AOR&B favorites like the Stones’ “Miss You” and Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” But “Ride the Lightning” as a Thom Bell-style torch song? “Black Hole Sun” scrubbed clean of grunge and hung up as psychedelic shack decor? It’d be iconoclastic if it didn’t sound natural as breathing.