Nina Simone’s debut album remastered 60 years later as complete edition…

Nina Simone – Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles – BMG/Bethlehem 538320261– Mono LP/ 7” 45 rpm single – 1958 – ****:

(Nina Simone – piano, vocals; Jimmy Bond – bass; Albert “Tootie” Heath – drums)

Nina Simone’s Little Girl Blue album was her debut as a recording artist, recorded in December, 1958, when she was only 24 years old. It was on Bethlehem Records, and her sole issue for that label. Fourteen tracks were recorded on a single day, and the numbers were split between Nina on solo piano, and as a trio, with bassist, Jimmy Bond, and drummer, Albert “Tootie” Heath. Most of the songs were “first takes,” a testament to Simone’s fully developed talent at such a young age.

Bethlehem over the years mined the recordings as an eleven track initial issue (Little Girl Blue), and also as seven A/B singles, but this newly remastered edition is the first to include all fourteen compositions in the order recorded, with “Porgy (I Loves You Porgy)” and “Love Me or Leave Me” as a 45 rpm single on the LP edition. There is also a CD version.

Nina was a child piano prodigy, and attended Julliard for a brief period, but her efforts to pursue a career as a classical concert pianist living in the South were derailed by the prejudices of that time period. She found quicker acceptance as an artist playing bars and clubs in the Atlantic City area (and later New York), combining her unique gifts merging classical and gospel music. Her talent of combining lyrics with classical motifs while improvising, repeating and changing words, set her apart from her contemporaries. Simone’s contralto was striking in its power, and her piano prowess added to her intensity.

Song titles are a mix of Broadway tunes, gospel, and Simone originals.  The instrumentals blend blues, concert hall classical, and jazz in her inimitable manner. “For All We Know” brings to mind the great Marian Andersen. There is a strong melancholy in many of the vocals but “My Baby Just Cares For Me” displays a jaunty confidence and “Mood Indigo” is uptempo. Bond and Heath provide sympathetic accompaniment, but no solos. Nina is clearly the star, whether it be her muscular authoritative piano playing, or her tender, vulnerable vocals with stark background on her hit, “Little Girl Blue.”

Simone will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April for her vocal talents, and in the last few years there has been two significant documentaries on her life. She was a one of a kind artist, and the release of her now complete first album (with outstanding comprehensive liner notes by Ashley Kahn) would be a fine purchase to honor her beginning as a musical artist that pursued her craft with fierce determination.

LP Tracklist:
Side One:
Little Girl Blue
He Needs Me
Don’t Smoke in Bed
African Mailman (Instrumental)
Mood Indigo
Central Park Blues (Instrumental)

Side Two:
For All We Know
Good Bait (Instrumental)
You’ll Never Walk along (Instrumental)
Plain Gold Ring
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
My Baby Just Cares for Me

—Jeff Krow