Monday, July 25, 2011

Oh Lord Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I'm reading a biography of Nina Simone (a brilliant page turner of a book and a brilliant page turner of a life). The highs and lows of Nina Simone's life are enthralling. One second she's got a hit in the charts but she's broke working as a maid, the next she's a rich socialite in Liberia with more suitors than she can keep track of, the next she's an old crank living in France sneaking into her neighbors swimming pools to go skinny dipping and getting her gun out to shoot at their kids when they make too much noise. It's hard to keep track, but David Brun-Lambert (the biographer) does it well. He set himself a hard task of trying to decipher fact from rumor and at the same time he gives great snapshots of the civil rights movement in America. But I don't want to talk about her life, I want to talk about her music.

The first album I ever bought was a Nina Simone compilation entitled 'The After Hours' (the first single I ever bought was Dustin the Turkey' *facepalm*). It's a very odd collection of tracks. A mix of studio recordings of full band arrangements with strings, and live recordings, some completely unaccompanied A cappella. Now that I'm reading her biography I'm realising it's probably a pirate album. The bad quality live recording probably done without her consent. Of course I'm not for piracy and I'd be much happier knowing she earned what she was due from these recording, but I'm still glad they exist.

I bought this album (when I was ten or eleven) because at home we had a Nina Simone CD of her hits that we listened to a lot. My Baby Just Cares For Me, Love me or Leave Me, See Line Woman...but when I got this CD home I was pretty shocked.

Instead of:

I got:

I was hooked. Nina (I feel we should be on first name terms, I have no justification other than ego) can deliver a lyric. In the live recordings you can feel the tension in the crowd. She can draw out a word for miles, waiting till the very last second to resolve, like when she sings 'Don't............look for me'. She has this raw intensity in her voice that she can use to absolutely hypnotise a crowd.

But somehow I get the feeling that now days she's probably better known for Coke and diet yohgurt adds. I get the feeling she's known for happy go lucky pop, gospel anthems when, in my completely personal and subjective opinion, this is not the area she shines in at all. Her pop gospel tunes might be great but they are nowhere near the genius of tunes like 'Four Women' or 'Images of a wayward soul'.

Misunderstood? Probably.

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