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Four Women: The Complete Nina Simone on Philips Recordings

Nina Simone

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Album Review

Nina Simone recorded seven albums for the Philips label between 1964 and 1966. It was the period in her career in which her reputation was cemented as a world-class artist, and one in which she gained fame for her contributions to the civil rights movement as well. Despite the fact that she recorded great albums both before and after her years with Philips (most notably with RCA), her Philips period is easily her most enigmatic. Among her Philips recordings are her live label debut and six studio recordings featuring wildly varying instrumentation, arrangements, and contents. The box contains all seven LPs on four CDs, and includes one bonus track. But Simone's Philips period is a monolithic accomplishment when measured against many of her peers, both male and female. First there is the audacious Nina Simone in Concert recording, done on two separate dates in New York in March and April of 1964 and issued later that summer. Simone's political stance with "Old Jim Crow," "Mississippi Goddam," and Weill and Brecht's "Pirate Jenny" makes them feel like they are of a piece with Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" and Willard Robison's "Don't Smoke in Bed," where blues, jazz, folk songs, and Broadway tunes all come together in that theatrical, sultry, and smoldering voice. The reality of that initial performance was further reinforced on the Broadway-Blues-Ballads disc, which opens with the definitive rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and George Bass' wondrous "See Line Woman." Going from the small combo concert album — where Simone accompanied herself on piano, to the lush orchestrations of the Broadway-Blues-Ballads album, with Hal Mooney conducting and writing the charts, is a jarring yet complementary experience. But it is on I Put a Spell on You, with its large and lush orchestral backing, and the chamber jazz setting of Pastel Blues that Simone's truly diva-like quality asserts itself. Working again with Mooney and complemented by Horace Ott on the former album, Simone found the orchestral formula and used it as a single musical instrument. True, it was one she could manipulate in terms of color and dynamic, but nonetheless, she used it as one would use a guitar, a saxophone, or a piano. Her voice found challenge and support in the various chromatic figures presenting themselves in songs like the title track, Charles Aznavour's "Tomorrow Is My Turn," "Take Care of Business," "Our September Song," "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," "Tell Me More and Then Some," "Strange Fruit," "Chilly Winds Don't Blow," and others, offering a vocalist in control not only of the melody, but the flow of emotion in the song, imparting its message to the instrumentalists and listeners even as it occurs to her in the act of singing.

On Let It All Out, Simone went back to work with Ott. Here she covered everyone from Bob Dylan ("The Ballad of Hollis Brown") to Duke Ellington ("Mood Indigo") to Rodgers & Hart on her signature tune ("Little Girl Blue"), and she co-wrote the inimitable, compelling "Images." But it is on Four Women (subtitled Wild Is the Wind) where Simone revealed how fully in control she was of virtually any repertoire she chose to sing. This is the gentlest of Simone's albums and arguably her best. Working with Ott — who wrote a pair of songs for the album — she showed a tenderness that was never as naked before or after as it was on tracks such as the title (authored by Simone) and "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." On her last album for the label, Simone turned the tables once again. Recording with an orchestra arranged and conducted by Mooney this time out, as well as playing piano, Simone took on Chuck Berry ("Brown-Eyed Handsome Man"), Nat Adderley and Oscar Brown, Jr. ("Work Song"), Angelo Badalamenti ("I Hold No Grudge"), and Ellington ("The Gal from Joe's"), as well as herself and Rudy Stevenson, her longstanding guitarist, in her quest to thwart pop music's then radio-friendly dictum that substance was not to be rewarded with record sales. And she succeeded. Simone's career at this time, and forevermore, really would be inextricably entwined with the triumphs and tribulations of the civil rights movement, and she would not argue or complain. But it's far from dogmatic protest music that's featured here, but the true triumph of the era, in that a woman of Simone's uncompromising stature and artistry would be as highly visible and successful as she was. Four Women documents all the knots, turns, twists, peaks, and valleys of that journey and makes for an essential listening experience. This is history, this is art, this is the joy of pop at its finest.

Customer Reviews

Wow!

How many times do you get to hear a great like Nina cover "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" and make you forget that Buddy Holly ever existed? Her version of "I put A spell on You" does exactly that... Amazing music from an amazing woman. Yay!

Sinnerman

One of those songs that you hear in a movie and need to own immediately. It will never fall off of my playlist

Simply brilliant

no one can hold a candle up to this amazingly brilliant woman! her lyrcis are deeply engaging and her voice is rich and beyond soulful.

Biography

Born: February 21, 1933 in Tryon, NC

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Nina Simone was one of the most gifted vocalists of her generation, and also one of the most eclectic. Simone was a singer, pianist, and songwriter who bent genres to her will rather than allowing herself to be confined by their boundaries; her work swung back and forth between jazz, blues, soul, classical, R&B, pop, gospel, and world...
Full Bio

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