A great vinyl upgrade of a jazz icon’s blues album.
Nina Simone Sings The Blues – RCA Victor/Dynagroove Records R67-2923 (1967)/Speakers Corner Records LSP-3789 (2022) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 31:50 ****1/2:
(Nina Simone – piano, vocals; Rudy Stevenson – guitar; Eric Gale – guitar; Bernard Purdie – drums; Bob Bushnell – bass; Buddy Lucas – harmonica, tenor saxophone)
Jazz singer/songwriter, pianist and singer Nina Simone had a unique career. Like many artists born in the south, she infused gospel into her musical style. Simone took piano lessons at a very early age and included classical influences to merge with folk, r & b, jazz and blues. She was rejected by a prominent musical school and subsequently became a committed advocate to the Civil Rights Movement. Her debut album, Little Girl Blue garnered critical acclaim, and the cover of “I Loves You Porgy” in 1958 launched her career. For nearly 50 years, Simone became a jazz pioneer with iconic albums and a mesmerizing stage presence. Her ability to grasp songs from various genres and reinvent them as her own was compelling. Being able to relate the socio-political landscape of her era, established a uniquely transformative cultural legacy.
Speakers Corner Records has released a 180-gram re-mastered vinyl of Nina Simone Sings The Blues. Originally recorded in 1966, this album represents a variety of blues songs (including originals), translated with authenticity and deep feeling. Side 1 opens with an original composition, “Do I Move You?. With a sultry delivery, Simone’s contralto vocals are spellbinding. Her meticulous articulation and soulful urgency are palpable. A harmonica (Buddy Lucas) and jagged guitar add nice textures. Simone shows her flexibility with a funky, vintage r & b version of “Day And Night”. The entire song is performed in a vocal duet with “ending” verse chant framed by groove-laden guitar, jews harp and backup vocal chant. “The High Priestess Of Soul” brings a slow-burning intensity to the Big Bill Broonzy ditty “In The Dark”. She distills the aching melancholy that is at the heart of blues music. Things pick up considerably on the roof-shaking Sunday morning (with organ) opus, “Real Real;” Simone always displayed an affinity for Gershwin’s jazzy intonation, especially in numbers from Porgy And Bess. Her scaled-down cover of “My Man’s Gone Now” is achingly beautiful with deep spirituality. The slow vamp-infused pulse is attention-grabbing. Her vocal modulation and crescendo-like piano flourishes are spine-tingling. The collaborative tune with Langston Hughes (“Backlash Blues) is a fervent protest song that has up tempo fervor.
In one of the certain highlights of the album, Simone channels the spirit of Bessie Smith on “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl”. Her sinewy delivery (with a brief subtle falsetto) exudes the raw sexuality of this tune, and a saxophone adds to the earthy resonance. Occasionally, blues music can be upbeat. “Buck” is a concise, jaunty “hat-tip” to a man who is good to his lover. There have been many versions of “Since I Fell For You”. Simone digs deep and reflects the pure heartache of love. Her fluid, occasionally raspy voice captures the solitude of the earlier version by Ella Johnson. “House Of The Rising Sun” became a commercial mainstream hit for the British Rock group The Animals in 1964. Here, Simone eschews the dirge structure, reclaiming the song’s folk/gospel origins. It is a vibrant, pulse-driven arrangement that is magnetic. “Blues For Mama” is a wonderful finale to this project. With a “down ’n’ dirty”vibe, this is quintessential, visceral blues music, with a subtle reference to sisterhood.
Nina Simone Sings The Blues is what you would expect from a bona fide visionary…the real deal. There is a commitment to the integrity of this genuine American music. This 180-gram re-mastered vinyl by Speakers Corner has an excellent mix, with stereo balance. The pressing is superior with no hisses or pops.
Side 1: Do I Move You?; Day And Night; In The Dark; Real Real; My Man’s Gone Now; Backlash Blues
Side 2: I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl; Buck; Since I Fell For You; The House Of The Rising Sun; Blues For Mama.
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