By the time that Nina Simone Sings the Blues was recorded in 1967, Dr. Simone (she received two honorary degrees later in her life, and preferred to be called Dr. Simone) had been recording albums for ten years. It was her first album with RCA and it signified a distinct change in musical directions for her. Most of the work she had done leading up to this album depended more and more on lush orchestral arrangements. In Nina Simone Sings the Blues, she scaled back the music and built a pure and spare sound featuring guitar, bass, drums, some organ and sax, and also her own piano. There are two bonus tracks.
Nina Simone Sings the Blues contains some of Dr. Simone’s finest work. From the plaintive cry of “Do I Move You?” to the old-time blues feeling of “In the Dark,” where her piano skills really shine, the music is restrained at times, powerful and emotional at other times. “My Man’s Gone Now,” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, is so raw at times that the emotional despair threatens to spill over and flood the listener. It is one of the shining moments in a brilliant musical career.
In my mind, there are two kinds of virtuoso musicians. The first type is technical—the people who dazzle and astound us with physical and aural impossibilities. We’re left wondering how anyone could ever do the things we hear them do. The second type is emotive—the people with total control over the entire musical performance, from the technique to the emotional content. Like any art, music is about communicating ideas and emotions from the creators to the audience. Emotive virtuosos can take a piece of music and breathe life into it. They can create a total experience for the listener. Dr. Simone is of the second type. When she sings in her strong, direct voice, we believe her. In Nina Simone Sings the Blues, Dr. Simone was at the top of her game.
— Hermon Joyner