Ten or so years ago, when I lived in wild and wikkit El Lay, I was having drinks with a client at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons (which as we all know, is NOT in Beverly Hills proper, but just across the street on Doheny). As we sat there, my client and I heard a woman (man?) talking just out of eyesight. The voice, while not loud, cut through the pre-cocktail hour buzzle like a small frigate---clean, strong, and distinctive. She wasn't being loud, it was just that that voice...that voice. My client persuaded me to go find out who was speaking, as we were mesmerized. I went into the next little salon off the bar area and saw an elegant black woman talking with an earnest young white man in his first grown-up suit, in his first grown-up A&R job (probably fresh from USC business school). She was talking and he had the most incoherent look on his face. In retrospect, I think he had never met someone like her, and of course, he never will again. I hope he appreciated her. I asked, "Excuse me, but your voice is so distinctive---it sounds very familiar. Do I know you?" She stopped her narrative, languidly looking up at me, extended her hand in a regal but not royal way, and simply said, "I am Nina Simone."
I have to admit that I had heard of her, but couldn't have named one song she'd recorded. Even in the hip 80's and 90's, she was radically underappreciated and heard in the States. Needless to say,(and this was way before amazon.com et al)I raced to Tower and bought several of her recordings. This recording is a favorite, and the more I listen to this amazing singer, the more I wonder why she never had a wider American audience. Her singing, like her speaking, was so very distinctive and mesmerizing. You may not want to, but you cannot help yourself from stopping to listen. I have had more people ask me "Who's playing?" when one of her songs comes up in the mix.
Her take on any song is memorable. Her voice has a resonant quality unlike the thin, reedy, over-produced songbirds on the charts today. Most modern singers in any genre seem hell-bent on showing off what their voices CAN do. It's like nude scene in a movie: gets your attention, but does nothing to move the plot along. Same with all the vocal melisma of current artists---all the shrieking does nothing to sell the song. With La Nina, it is just pure singing, straight out and true.
Try this album. You may not like it at first. Her voice is unique and requires attentive listening. But like dark chocolate, which might taste bitter at first, somehow seduces you and milk chocolate becomes a little ho-hum. So it is with Nina Simone. You may not want to play her for your next rave, but with friends over for drinks or dinner, Nina playing in the next room, soon everyone will be asking, "Who's playing?" And you can turn on a new audience to an incomparable, unique voice.