Every so often an artist comes along who can make you, the listener, feel such strong emotion it’s almost too tender to endure. They’re just that good. To me, Nina Simone was that kind of singer. Her range went way beyond the reaches of most earth dwellers and she could achieve husky, almost masculine tones just as effortlessly as the other extreme of crystalline purity. She was an accomplished pianist – classically trained – and this, when combined with her singing elevated her live performances into a kind of legendary art form. Nina Simone refused to compromise herself artistically at a time when young black women's choices were limited. She was also a keen civil rights and freedom activist. She disliked being categorized as a jazz singer but the truth is that her singing style simply defies the boundaries of any genre – even with this particular cd, hopefully called The Definitive Collection it is clear that each track stands totally on its own and sounds just as unique and modern now as it did years ago at the time of release.
I Put a Spell on You is spellbinding in its sexy, yearning chorus. There’s also some inspired scatting at the end of this song that sounds almost primitive – so great!
Wild is the Wind This is a haunting, plaintive melody that was also covered a number of years ago by a much younger David Bowie on his Station to Station album. Nina’s version is more complex and a good deal more classical – listen up for the stunning beauty of her piano. Her voice vibrates and resonates with the pain and emotion she depicts and at times it’s very much an androgynous delivery since her vocal range is so extensive and intense; in fact, the experience is almost operatic in nature. If you have never heard this song, you need to make it a priority to do so. (Nina Simone’s is the version to start with!)
Don’t Let me be Misunderstood Nina Simone was the original artist to record this song (before The Animals claimed as a huge hit in the sixties) and the two versions could not be more unalike; however, because Simone puts such a personal stamp on the song it sounds like a totally different piece in her hands. It’s moody, bluesy and charismatic.
See Line Woman sounds extremely African – unlike anything else I’ve ever heard her perform – and has an interesting rhythm that hearkens back to the earliest blues sounds coming out of Mali. Once again Simone adjusts her presence and singing to fit the occasion and she sounds authentic and hypnotic.
Sugar in My Bowl is of course a classic in its own right having been performed by many other artists from Bessie Smith to Queen Latifah. Nina does a great job with it though and this was one of her standard crowd pleasers to perform live as she does on this particular recording. (Why is there always- without exception – someone in a blues audience who shouts “Yeee-aaa!” in exactly the same way at exactly the same time after every live performance ever captured? Weird!)
My Baby Just Cares for Me is the concluding (live) track on this album and even though this has been featured a lot in the media – some cynics (not me mind you) might say, over-played – it’s still a fabulous, jumpy little number that makes you keep singing long after it’s finished playing. Plus it’s almost spring, right? We need a song like this …