Street Sounds: Nina Simone is left to her solitude

The late jazz singer/pianist, Nina Simone is honoured on a collection of her material, Nina Revisited.

The late jazz singer/pianist, Nina Simone is honoured on a collection of her material, Nina Revisited.

It is a tribute album led by Lauryn Hill.  The complexity of Simone’s output, including gospel, instrumentals, protest songs and proto jazz/R&B are connected by the conviction of her performance.

Someone else’s presence is an elusive thing to capture and Simone is a complex character.

The album reflects this, although for not the right reasons. Hill’s rapping excursions fall flat and the exclusion of Simone’s incendiary gospel/blues protest, Mississippi Goddamn, is disappointing. Simone’s civil rights work and classical music roots are hinted at but not highlighted.

Some of the material catches fire. The slinky/spooky treatment Hill gives to Feeling Good and Jazmine Sullivan’s funk lament of Baltimore stand out.

Gregory Porter’s cover of Sinnerman taps into the abstract expressionism of Simone’s style of soul music as does the dreamlike version of I Put a Spell on You, done by Alice Smith.

However, Usher’s bland reading of My Baby Cares Just For Me drags and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood gets a lite cocktail jazz treatment despite Mary J. Blige’s performance.

Hill’s work on Simone’s material is the most compelling, ranging from ambitious (Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair) to abstract (Wild is the Wind) to indulgent (Ne Me Quitte Pas). Hill’s delivery is intense, and she reaches far into the each song’s content to bring the backstory to life.

Uneven production upsets several songs on Nina Revisited and threatens to derail the consistency of the tribute. That’s an arrangement issue, though, and Nina Revisited brings the musician’s uncompromising integrity into focus and captures the spirit of some of her work.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases for The Morning Star every Friday.