Thursday, February 22, 2018

Nina Simone: “Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles” (2018) CD Review

When I think of Nina Simone, I usually think of her distinct and wonderful voice, and sometimes forget what a damn fine pianist and arranger she was too. Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles, the new CD release of her earliest recorded material, is providing me a delightful reminder of her talents, particularly as there are several instrumental tracks on it. This CD contains all of the tracks from Little Girl Blue, her first LP, as all of those songs were released on singles as well, plus three other songs from that first session which were also released on singles (and were included on Nina Simone And Her Friends). Most of the material she chose for this session was written by other artists, but there are a couple of original tunes as well. Accompanying her on these recordings are Jimmy Bond on bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums. This CD includes fairly extensive liner notes by Ashley Kahn, plus some photos.

This CD opens with a gorgeous, gentle, romantic rendition of “Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy).” Ah, you can never go wrong with Gershwin (I may have mentioned that before). This track has a late-night vibe, with Nina Simone providing a very light touch on piano, the bass and drums as unobtrusive as possible, the focus squarely on Nina’s vocals. This recording makes me want to reach out to her, to hold her. This track, paired with “Love Me Or Leave Me” on the single, was a hit for her, reaching #18 on the Billboard Hot 100. This version of “Love Me Or Leave Me” is lively and delicious, one of my personal favorite tracks of this compilation. The Peak Show covered a portion of this song in their song “O’Day” (Anita O’Day also released a fantastic rendition of “Love Me Or Leave Me”). “Love me or leave me and let me be lonely/You won’t believe me, but I love you only/I’d rather be lonely than happy with somebody else.” Nina Simone seems to have a wonderful time singing this tune, and she also delivers some great work on piano. Really, it’s her work on piano here that sets this rendition apart from other versions of this song.

“Little Girl Blue,” used as the LP’s title track, is such an interesting recording, at times sounding serious and moving, other times playful, with nods to “Good King Wenceslas” on piano. Her voice is gorgeous, just listen to the way she delivers the lines “It’s time you knew/All you can ever count on are the raindrops/That fall on little girl blue.” And the way she sings the opening lines of “He Needs Me,” the flip side to “Little Girl Blue,” she makes us believe her. “He needs me/He doesn’t know it, but he needs me.” Her voice is one of honesty and understanding, having assessed the situation and delivering the inevitable conclusion in a straightforward manner. There is something strangely both strong and delicate about her here.

The first of the collection’s instrumental tracks is “African Mailman,” an original composition that was not included on Little Girl Blue, but was released on Nina Simone And Her Friends, as well as the flip side to “Don’t Smoke In Bed.” This is a fun, energetic number, with a strong rhythm. That’s followed by another lively number, “Mood Indigo,” the song used as the title track for this collection. Nina Simone’s version of this one moves at a good pace, Nina riding that wonderful wave created by the bass. During the instrumental section, Nina’s piano comes roaring along gloriously, then slides back again, taking up a position with the bass so Nina’s voice can shine and soar again. It is certainly no wonder why this track was chosen as the title for this release. Then we get the second of the CD’s instrumental tracks, “Central Park Blues,” written by Nina Simone. This delightful, interesting number was chosen as the closing track for the Little Girl Blue LP.  “Good Bait,” another instrumental track, is one of my favorites. It has such a cool rhythm, and some seriously enjoyable work on piano. “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” the disc’s final instrumental number, is beautiful.

Another of my favorite tracks, “For All We Know,” is one that was left off Little Girl Blue and included on Nina Simone And Her Friends. This one features some powerful piano-playing and moving vocal work, a phenomenal track. I particularly love the ending. “Yes, tomorrow may never, never come/For all we know.”  Another highlight is “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” which concludes the disc and is an absolute delight. Her work on piano here has me smiling every time I listen to it, the sheer joy of it is almost overwhelming. And the way she sings the word “clothes” in the line “My baby don’t even care for clothes,” coupled with that pause after the line, leads us to know exactly what she’s talking about, and it’s not couture. Okay, I have to mention one thing about the version of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” included on this disc. It sounds like Nina’s singing, “He’s got the little bits of baby in his hands,” which of course gives a different feel, and creates for me an image of either a bloodthirsty god or a god who just doesn’t know his own strength, like Lennie in Of Mice And Men.

CD Track List
  1. Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy)
  2. Love Me Or Leave Me
  3. Little Girl Blue
  4. He Needs Me
  5. Don’t Smoke In Bed
  6. African Mailman
  7. Mood Indigo
  8. Central Park Blues
  9. For All We Know
  10. Good Bait
  11. You’ll Never Walk Alone
  12. Plain Gold Ring
  13. He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand (Alternate Take)
  14. My Baby Just Cares For Me
Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles was released on February 9, 2018.

No comments:

Post a Comment