Saturday, August 20, 2016
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NINA SIMONE - THE PHILIPS YEARS
Simone's career was still on the rise when she jumped to the Philips label in 1964, and the three years and seven albums she released with that company are a high mark. This box collects all seven, and while there are no bonus, and no liner notes other than the ones on the original jackets, it's for the most part tremendous music and great value. Thanks to the 'net, you can pretty much do all the research yourself these days anyway.
Simone's reputation as a difficult artist has always hung in the air, and restricted interest to an extent, as some have assumed it means a difficult listen too. That's just not the case. It's been established she was bipolar, which goes a long way to explained her erratic nature in concert and in life, but as for her material in her prime, she's extremely enjoyable, and quite accessible. Unique too, as she fused her classical piano expertise (Julliard-trained) with pop, soul, theatre, jazz, virtually everything. Her genius is easy to hear, as both her vocals and arrangements stress emotion, from beauty to anger.
Her move to Phillips coincided with her willingness to put her strong support of the civil rights movement on her recordings. The first here is a live disc (she released several concert albums in her career), Nina Simone In Concert, which featured her stinging Mississippi Goddam, a condemnation of atrocities in the state. It also features a version of her early hit I Loves You, Porgy, and her arrangements of show tunes were certainly one of her strengths.
The six studio albums that follow are all in the 35-minute range, standard for the day, and considering the brief time span covered, that's a bunch of excellent music. There are a couple that don't quite gel, but there are always at least a couple of amazing songs on each. Broadway...Blues...Ballads is the lightest, but has stellar versions of Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood and See-line Woman. Once Simone did her versions, most others paled.
Then there are albums that never let down, the best being I Put A Spell On You. As well as the title cut, she adapts a trio of surprising, and highly-effective show tunes, the fun Marriage Is For Old Folks from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and two from Anthony Newley's The Roar of the Greasepaint. These are difficult songs, they are popular, and Simone plays, sings and inhabits them with immense talent.