Saturday, February 24, 2018


The great Nina Simone is known for a lot of things, but hit singles is not generally one of them. True, her career did start with one, 1959's surprising Top 20 debut I Loves You, Porgy, but she never again dented the upper reaches of the charts. In the run of singles featured on this two-CD set, she only made it as high as 92. But the quality of the music far outweighs the attempts the Colpix label made to promote her, and she actually broke through with a series of live albums that showcased her unique talents, mixing classical, jazz and blues. But yeah, not exactly Top 40 material.

For those of you who have become familiar with the fiery Simone from the Civil Rights struggles, these songs just predate that, from 1959 to 1963, but it was a time of great development for Simone. Her remarkable ability to transform folk and blues standards such as Trouble In Mind, Cotton Eyed Joe and Little Liza Jane into new, sophisticated, and modern African-American music is still vastly underrated. What is fully obvious though is her amazing voice and her supreme musicality, and these cuts still shine today.

Several of the 45's were taken from the hit live albums, and again, people only familiar with the later Simone might be surprised to hear her having such a good time on stage, knowing how erratic she became later in life. There was absolute joy in some of these songs, as Simone was so in touch with her prodigious talent that she took great delight in just how good the performances were. It's interesting that although she didn't have a hit, every one of these 27 songs is a triumph.

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