Earlier this year, two albums by Nina Simone were re-released by RCA: Nina Simone Sings the Blues and Silk & Soul. Both originally released in 1967, yet two very different albums from the legendary “High Priestess of Soul.”
Nina Simone Sings the Blues is a moody, mellow, bluesy album, true to its roots and full of emotion. Simone disliked being pigeonholed in any specific genre, but rather preferred to be defined by her body of work. This album, however, is a masterpiece, heavily reflecting her roots in gospel and blues. Each song stands well on its own, each with its own tale of sorrow and loss, as well as desire, love, and political message.
A few of the standout songs include the opening bluesy track, “Do I Move You,” which sets the perfect tone for this down-home and earthy gem. “In the Dark” and “Backlash Blues” continue with that tradition, the latter being a joined effort with famed “Harlem Renaissance” poet and friend, Langston Hughes. It is in “Backlash Blues” that Simone, along with Hughes, remains true to the cause of Civil Rights, and creates a song rich with depictions of social inequity.
“Real Real” reflects Simone’s deep influence of gospel music. “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” continuing the bluesy feel, is a sweet, flirtatious expression of sexual frustration, while “My Man’s Gone Now” is a melancholy tale of love lost. This beautiful ballad reflects a combination of Simone’s blues and classical influences. With the haunting and aching bass line that pierces through to the heart, it is a song that emotes the feeling of sadness, desperation, and unfulfilled desire. The classically styled piano is a soft and appropriate accompaniment to Simone’s raw emotion that is felt throughout this four minute and sixteen second masterpiece.
A less effective effort, Silk & Soul, is the follow-up to Nina Simone Sings the Blues. Again defying genre, Simone compiles an assortment of songs which range from the sassy and groovy “It Be’s That Way Sometime” to “Go To Hell,” rich with strong moral and religious themes, to the weaker renditions of “Cherish” and “The Look of Love.”
The standout song is “Consummation,” which is reminiscent of one of Simone’s previously recorded songs “Wild Is the Wind”. This song is a passionate anthem that celebrates the Christian faith, without sounding like a typical gospel song. Here, Nina Simone sings with the strong and vibrant voice that justifies her title as the “High Priestess of Soul.”
Nina Simone Sings the Blues and Silk & Soul are two unique CDs in style and sound, but both celebrate the work and life of the great singer who considered herself a musician with no particular style or pattern. Both CDs include two rare tracks that were not on the original releases, making both a “must have” for all Nina Simone fans.