This is the first Nina Simone album I ever bought and itÕs one of the most precious records I own. I got my first vinyl copy thirty years ago, after seeing and hearing her on a PBS special. I ended up with this record because it was the only thing they had by her at the record store and, like practically everyone who has ever heard her sing (unfortunately, not nearly enough people), I had to have SOMETHING. The first time you hear her voice she becomes an addiction. Years later I bought a cassette of this album for the car, and after I got a CD player, this was one of the very first CDs I bought. For thirty years, itÕs been one of the few albums I never wanted to be without.
The odd thing is, itÕs not a flawless record. There are a couple of tracks that I skip almost every time I listen to it. (Her pitch on "Wild Is The Wind" is so off itÕs like fingernails on a blackboard.) But forget the duds. The rest of the album is not just brilliant, itÕs beyond compare. Nobody sounds like Nina Simone. Not even close. I couldnÕt even describe to someone who has never heard her exactly what style of music she sings. SheÕs sometimes classified as an r&b singer, which makes no sense at all. Most critics all her a jazz singer, but she has objected strenuously to that label, and certainly if youÕre thinking of Billie Holiday or Sara Vaughan, youÕre way off base. In her autobiography, she calls herself a folk singer, but that evokes images of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, and doesnÕt really fit her either.
Nina Simone is simply a brilliant musician, a genius who has taken in a wide range of influences Š gospel, jazz, folk, classical, blues, European art song, musical theater, r&b, everything Š and blended them together into unique works of art. The only performer of her breadth I can think of is Ray Charles Š and as much as I admire Ray Charles, I think Nina Simone is even better.
On some songs Š "I Put A Spell On You," for example, and "DonÕt Let Me Be Misunderstood" Š her singing is so deep and moving, so honest, she brings chills even after youÕve heard the songs a thousand times. Others go even beyond that. Listening to her rendition of BrechtÕs "Pirate Jenny" is like listening to a soliloquy by a brilliant actress on a bare stage: she evokes an entire world, an entire soul, with the sound of her voice. The anger of "Mississippi Goddamn" still burns decades after she wrote the song. You canÕt listen to her without feeling angry yourself. And the 10-minute "Sinnerman" is awe-inspiring, a religious experience, every second of it.
DonÕt expect to put this on in the background, because this is music that will force you to sit down and pay attention to it. Nina Simone will not be ignored.
I wouldnÕt be without this album.