Nina Simone’s Silk & Soul is the second album she released in 1967 on the RCA label. Her first RCA album, Nina Simone Sings the Blues, aimed for a simpler, pared down sound, but in Silk & Soul she elects for a richer palette, with strings, brass, and woodwinds. Silk & Soul shows the incredible range of her voice and performance.
Simone’s voice is incredibly strong with a tremolo that grabs and holds your attention, and her performance is economical and concise. Oh, to be sure, she has all the suppleness and grace that this music needs to come alive. But it’s the subtle precision of her singing and piano technique that’s always a delight. Considering that Dr. Simone was a child prodigy, she started playing the piano when she was 4 years old, and studied piano at Julliard, it’s hardly a surprise at all. Still, the precision and loveliness of her musicality is a gift to her listeners.
There are a number of standout performances on this CD. The blues and gospel flavored number “Love O’ Love” is one of the best. It features Simone’s rich voice accompanied simply by her piano. It’s a real showcase for her strengths as a musician. There are also a couple of covers of pop tunes of that time—”The Look of Love” and “Cherish.” Both are expertly executed and deeply felt performances. They feel like aural caresses. One tune that doesn’t hold up as well is “Turning Point.” It comes off as a bit naïve and dated (Simone sings from the point of view of a young white girl), although fostering racial understanding continues to be an issue and challenge for many Americans. One of the best numbers on the CD is “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free.” It’s an infectiously good and rousing call to action. Dr. Simone was always closely tied to the civil rights movement and often felt the personal costs of waging that fight, but she never shied away from saying what should be said. Her life and philosophy is summed up in this line from Taylor’s song: “I wish I could say all the things that I should say. Say ‘em loud, say ‘em clear for the whole round world to hear.” And Nina Simone does exactly that.
— Hermon Joyner