The album opens with Nina Simone singing “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” backing herself on piano. It’s a slow, gorgeous rendition with a passionate vocal performance and a rather serious sound to her piano work. Oh yes, Nina Simone can sell even this song (one I never really thought all that much of). This track was recorded in the same sessions that yielded Little Girl Blue. Then we get the first of the Chris Connor tracks, “Someone To Watch Over Me.” I’ve said it often, but you can never go wrong with Gershwin. The intro to this version is interesting, but for me this track gets good as soon as Chris Connor’s voice comes in. What a beautiful and captivating performance. This track also features some wonderful stuff on piano, and is one of my favorites. The first track by Carmen McRae is a cool and fun version of “Old Devil Moon.” We need more songs that use the word “razzle-dazzle.” Here Carmen McRae is backed by the Mat Mathews Quartet.
Nina Simone then turns to the music of Gershwin with an excellent rendition of “I Loves You, Porgy,” a song that was also included on Little Girl Blue, her debut album. It is a fantastic and mesmerizing vocal performance, intimate and tender. This song was a hit for Nina Simone, and this recording is deservedly revered by music fans. Chris Connor gives us two Cole Porter songs on this release, the first being “I Concentrate On You.” Interestingly, this track has an instrumental intro that is more than a minute and a half long, nearly half the length of the track. This rendition gently swings, and features a smooth and pretty vocal performance. I also dig that bass line. That’s followed by “You Made Me Care” by Carmen McRae, backed by Tony Scott Quartet. I love that work on clarinet. This song and “Old Devil Moon” were included on her 1955 self-titled LP.
The third Nina Simone track is “For All We Know,” another song that was recorded during the sessions for Little Girl Blue but not included on that release. It was written by J. Fred Coots and Sam M. Lewis. The opening line of the song is “For all we know, we may never meet again,” and Nina’s delivery is arresting. She immediately has hold of the listener. “For all we know, this may only be a dream/We come and we go/Like the ripples, like the ripples in a stream.” It’s a song about living in the moment. Life is short, tomorrow is not promised. I think that message has been heard and learned by many folks over the course of the last couple of years. This is an incredibly moving track featuring some passionate work on piano as well. That’s followed by the second of the Cole Porter songs by Chris Connor, “From This Moment On” which moves at a good clip and contains a bright and strong vocal performance. Then we get “Too Much In Love To Care” from Carmen McRae. This might be the coolest track of the album. “Once our romance was a gay thing/Now I am only your plaything/I know it’s all unfair/But I’m too much in love to care/With every kiss you deceive me.”
“African Mailman” is another tune recorded for Little Girl Blue, but not included on that album. Written by Nina Simone, it begins with some work on piano. Soon the band joins her, creating a rhythm that might get you dancing. This is a fun and kind of wild instrumental track, the last of the Nina Simone tracks on this release. The album changes gears with the sweet, romantic, mellow number, “All This And Heaven Too” from Chris Connor, who delivers a gorgeous vocal performance. The album concludes with Carmen McRae’s “Last Time For Love,” which she also wrote. “The things we planned are all so meaningless now/But I’ll get along somehow.” This is an excellent song about being wrong in love and left with nothing. It is filled with deliciously sad lines, such as these: “Now that we’re through, I have nothing left to spare/You’ve taken everything and left me just this song.”
CD Track List
- He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands
- Someone To Watch Over Me
- Old Devil Moon
- I Loves You, Porgy
- I Concentrate On You
- You Made Me Care
- For All We Know
- From This Moment On
- Too Much In Love To Care
- African Mailman
- All This And Heaven Too
- Last Time For Love
This special re-issue of Nina Simone And Her Friends is scheduled to be released on December 3, 2021 through BMG.