Nina Simone, Baltimore: Still Speechless

Some artists you can’t figure out. These artists are often the ones I skip over when I’m choosing someone to write about. If I can’t emotionally get my mind and heart wrapped around their music and voice, how could I put words to it?

One of these artists is Nina Simone. Her voice is as sharp as a razor blade, as extravagant as a fur coat, yet as innocent and simple as a little girl. It penetrates your being and goes straight for the soul. Listening to her can be a spiritual experience.

From my personal collection

I have many of Simone’s albums and with each album, I find a new gem. Sometimes it could just be the way she stylizes a song differently, other’s it’s her own compositions. On one of my recent vinyl hauls, I found her 1978 album, Baltimore.

This album immediately took me by surprise. Nina Simone was singing reggae? I wasn’t complaining. I liked it. Songs like the title track “Baltimore” and her cover of Hall and Oates “Rich Girl” really show a different tone to her voice. It is different than every one of her previous studio albums and I think it was innovative.

Although, this change was not welcomed by Simone. We all know Simone was a complex lady, but I truly believe she had a beautiful soul. In 1977 famed jazz producer, Creed Taylor, signed Simone to his label CTI. Simone was not one to do what she didn’t want to, yet her comment’s made about this album proves she did just that. The sessions were tense and she eventually recorded the album’s vocals in an hour and a half.

Yet, a master piece was still born.

First, I was immediately hooked to the second song “Everything Must Change.” Simone’s vocals glide over the words of this song like second nature. At this point in her life, both personally and professionally, she had experienced change, while also not experiencing enough change. On this recording, Simone’s melancholy vocals continue to take on different shapes to each listener’s situation years later.

Then there is Simone’s second ballad of the album, “My Father.” The song’s lyrics make a complete circle, but Simone’s vocals fill in all the space between the words. It’s brilliance.

From last.fm

On side B I found Simone’s “melody” of traditional Christian songs intriguing. Through my experience with Simone, she doesn’t often give a higher power credit, but in “Balm of Gilead” and “If You Pray Right,” she does just that. Her voice sounds completely content and joyful in “Balm of Gilead,” which is taken straight from the Holy Bible. “If You Pray Right” takes on a complete gospel spin that really isn’t Simone, but it’s a vocal style that many African-American singers get type cast into. She is the High Priestess of Soul though, so she can preach like no other! It’s nice to hear Simone in these less heavy songs as she brings a new identity to both of them.

When I first heard the album I thought it was an interesting avenue Simone traveled down musically. Then I did the research and found that she was in essence, disgusted with the album, but the listener can’t hear that. She gives 110% to a project she distastes. Why?

Nina Simone both, self-perceived and in reality, lived on the back burner. People knew she was always going to give her all and they took advantage of that. Even this could not mask her genius interpretation of emotion.

I’m just going to have to end here because I simply can’t think of anything else to say. Again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

Bond Villain: Simply Innovative

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of newer music. I go through phases. I generally listen to older artists. Sometimes I lose all hope in music being released today, then I find some kick ass artist that renews my hope in humanity. That happened.

From Bond Villain’s Instagram.

Last night, I tuned into Bond Villain’s Facebook Live. I recently heard their collaboration with Kimberley Locke on “Dangerous Woman,” and I thought it was legit music made with real talent (I’m also a sucker for anything Kimberley Locke lends her vocals too). Now it was time to give Bond Villain a shot on other material.

The first song they shared was “Dying Star.” This is one of their earlier compositions. In Bond Villain’s explanation, this song is about either a romantic relationship or about a family relationship. The song boils down to someone who is burning their life out. This is someone you love, yet they are toxic in where you are in your life right now.

When this song began I thought an army was marching, but then it transitioned to a simple piano riff that hooks you in. The vocals are the sinker. The song crescendos at the chorus giving way to a sound that was equally as epic, or more, as the beginning. The climax (bridge) of the song goes into a near military march of emotion, lyrically and musically, while ending with a simple piano. The song comes full circle.

Secondly, they shared “Body Like a Knife” This song is a little less heavy on lyrics while staying incredibly creative. This song is a mix of EDM, hip-hop, and pop. This song was made for the stage. It is filled with dramatic elements, including another epic bridge. Again, it’s the vocals that get you.

The next song “Let Me Go” is my personal favorite. This is a relatively new song for Bond Villain. He describes this song as a mix of emotions that are nostalgic, equating them to a place in your childhood. This place once meant something to you, but its meaning has changed. You find loved ones who had an impact on your life, but you now realize you are different now then who you were then.

For me, this song deeply relates to my life. I am upcoming on my one year anniversary of moving to New York from my childhood home of Oklahoma. As I reflect on the last year I have discovered a new person; a person, who I think is more of who I am. I have a lot of situations and people back home that I need to let go and that need to let go of me.

“Let Me Go” comes with another dramatic intro that immediately takes me home through its lyrics. I find myself walking the corridors of where my life once was (minus the cow patties). The chorus is mid-tempo, but the passion is astounding. It’s a precursor to what the song morphs into. The song then takes on a gospel vibe, with Bond Villain being joined by what sounds like choir. Locke lends her voice here to add some diversity in vocals, passion, and soul. This is the goosebump moment.

From Bond Villain’s Instagram

This song is a ballad in nature, yet it stretches the elements. “Let Me Go” moves ballads into a new era. It has the same sentiment of a ballad and the orchestration of the song has many of the same elements. What this song does is combine orchestration and vocals into one unit. You don’t hear a singer, then a piano, some beats, and back ups. You hear one full composition. This song is simply innovative. It’s moving into my favorite rack.

Lastly, Bond Villain shared the video of “Dangerous Woman” with Kimberley Locke. One would initially consider this song a cover of Ariana Grande, but really it’s anything but. Grande is the original singer, but Bond Villain and Locke make it completely new, bringing it a fresh identity through heavy piano and elastic vocals.

Tonight I listened to a lot of music. I always say my musical choices are a little ADD. I can go from one extreme to the other. That is what happened tonight, yet it came from one artist instead of many. This combination doesn’t show a lack of direction from Bond Villian, yet it creates determination. A determination that is willing to push music past it’s proper composition. A determination defined by a placement of a note beyond the staff. An idea that music is anything but restrictive.

Bond Villain is simply innovative.

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Check out all his new songs here.

Visit Bond Villain’s official site here. (Seriously, buy a shirt)

Follow Bond Villain on Instagram and Twitter @BondVillianBand

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