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CD Review: Nina Simone – The Soul Of Nina Simone (DualDisc)

Most of the performances date from her years at RCA (1965-1974), when Simone brought her personal battles to the stage and connected with a whole era of upheaval. ‘Black classical music’ is how she termed her style, which incorporated folk tunes, jazz and African rhythms, and classical flourishes. She channeled it all into brooding internal monologues, sung in an indigo voice whose craggy edges bristled with black pain and rage.

The set starts with the passionate “Feeling Good;” Nina is happy and optimistic about life with “fish in the sea” and the “river running free.” But the album’s mood drops with the surprisingly calm “Since I Fell For You,” which Simone sings with regretless sadness. The live “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” is deep and intense, although the frequent clapping from the crowd humbles Simone’s performance. As a listener of the album, it’s a bit distracting, but if I was part of audience, I couldn’t say I blame any one of them.

Simone has the ability to engage the audience with the same intensity and emotion of her upbeat tempos as much as she can with her down tempo solos. The pain she sings in the powerful “My Man’s Gone Now” is sorrowful while the hymnic “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” is revelatory. She traverses through different musical styles from funk (“Save Me”) to blues (“My Baby Just Cares For Me”) to bossa nova (“The Look Of Love”). She even gives a soulful melody rendition of Porgy & Bess. The magic of Nina Simone is her ability to intensify any note and any sound with all of her being. She became her music.

“Through music you can feel the vibrations of everybody in the world at any given moment” – Nina, 1969

This is a DualDisc with one side including the CD version of the album, while the other side including the DVD version of the album. The DVD side includes the album in 5.1 stereo. There are also 30 minutes of rare, never before released live performances of her performing on the Ed Sullivan Show (1960), at the Bitter End Cafe (1968) and at the Harlem Festival (1969).

On the Ed Sullivan Show, she performs a Bach-infused version of “Love Me Or Leave Me” and “I Loves You, Porgy.” At the Bitter End Cafe, she plays the energetic, yet subdued “House Of The Rising Sun” and “(You’ll) Go To Hell.” The video has surprisingly good quality for being filmed almost 30 years old. At the Harlem Festival, she performs “Revolution,” “Four Women,” “Ain’t Got No – I Got Life” and “To Be Young, Gifted And Black.” Watching her sing “Four Women” helps you to realize how much she puts into her music. Her body movements are minimal (except for a brief thumbs-up) while she plays to piano to emphasize her power comes from her voice. Watching her play is hypnotizing.

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About Tan The Man

Tan The Man writes mostly about film and music. He has previously covered events like Noise Pop, Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, South By Southwest, TBD Festival, and Wizard World Comic Con.

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