PLAYLIST: Nina Simone, A Calm Exhaust

Sometimes you are at a loss for words. Then you listen to Nina Simone….and you are still at a loss for words.

Lately, I have binge-listened to Nina Simone. I don’t really like to write over her because it’s so hard to put words to her voice, but I feel the need to say something.

Simone’s voice is complex. Her voice pierces my soul. When I put on one of her records, I may feel whole, but by the time the album makes its final spin, I’m mush. This happens every single time. As exhausting as this sounds, she is still one of my go-to comfort vinyl. Her voice calmly exhausts me.

I could literally write a book over each Nina Simone album I listen to, but for the sake of brevity, I wanted to compile a list of my current favorites. Although it is safe to note, this list may change by the time this article is published.


1. “Mood Indigo” from Little Girl Blue

This song does me in by many artists, but Simone’s upbeat version takes me astray. Instead of the songs usual instrumentation of gloom, it takes on a new feeling with an upbeat tempo.

2. “Papa, Can You Hear Me” from A Single Woman

All music theater and jazz fans know this song from Barbra Streisand and the movie Yentl. Nina Simone’s version is very different, not just in a vocal sense, but an emotional one. Simone didn’t have a close relationship with her father and this song serves as a solemn farewell plea.

3. “The Other Woman” – “Cotton Eyed Joe” from Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall

What I hate about this song is how autobiographical it became for Nina Simone. The song is a tear-jerker, especially with the emotion Simone evokes. What I do love is how well she captures the true essence of this song’s lyrics. She lived it in more ways than one.

4. “Go to Hell” from Silk and Soul

Simone’s mid to late career was mirrored in bluntness. This song, from what I would argue is one of her most iconic studio albums, continues this tradition.

5. “Summertime” Instrumental and Vocal from Nina Simone At Town Hall

When Simone plays the piano, I can feel her fingers hit the keys. Now, this may be my imagination, but this factor stuns me with this song in particular. Her vocals are nonchalant. It sounds like Simone is just saying words that come to mind as she goes through this classic.


What does it mean for an artist or piece of music to pierce your soul? I don’t have the answer. These are just the words that distinctly come to mind every-time I listen to Simone. I’m not sure if a digital file could quite do it like vinyl. It’s gut-wrenching and unexplainable when on this medium. It steals my words. There are layers to our bodies and emotions, yet Nina Simone skips every level to strike the deepest.

This playlist barely touches the brim of what Simone means to me. She expresses the highest highs and the lowest lows that I’ve only experienced with Judy Garland as well. With each listen, she strikes that exact cord within my soul that needs strumming, and I could not be more thankful.

And here I must end because, again, Nina Simone has left me speechless.

Check out my other articles over Nina Simone:

https://vinyl-culture.com/2017/07/17/music-vinyl-blog-review-nina-simone-baltimore/

CONCERT: Paula Cole in New Jersey

I’m not sure Paula Cole can ever disappoint me.

On Saturday night the great searcher of cowboys performed at the intimate White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, NJ.

Now the concert was not This Fire Paula Cole, it was more “this stream.”

A show filled with social and political undertones, Cole opened the concert with “Watch The Woman’s Hands.” This is a track off of her first album Harbinger. Laced with female empowerment, Cole sang this song with passion and fury through her phrasing and vocal tones, proving Cole does not have to use her vocal acrobatics to make her point.

Next, Cole went into a song off her latest album Ballads, “I Wish (I Knew How It Feels to Be Free).” Her likeness of this song can only be compared with the originator, Nina Simone. Yes, it was that good. Cole brought this song with a calm intensity in a society that desperately needs its message.

As the concert continued, Paula Cole sang many fan favorites, including her smash hit “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” along with lesser known songs like “Carmen” and “Strong Beautiful Woman.” Gratitude filled the room from Cole as she ended each song to applause and standing ovations.

I have never felt more “thanked” for loving an artist than how Cole made me feel during her show.

It was easy to see Cole’s gratitude to her listeners when she called up a long time fan to join her on “Hush, Hush, Hush.” The bridge of this song is sung by Peter Gabriel on her This Fire album, but tonight it was sung by a fan simply known as Vincent to the audience.

Although one must be warned, you never know what you are going to get when you see Paula Cole, but one thing is certain, you will have a profound experience. Whether it’s Paula belting her anguish or calmly portraying her grief and frustration, you will always walk away with a message of hope and resilience wrapped in the only medium that portrays both simultaneously, music.

Read my other articles on Paula Cole:

Transcending: A Conversation with Paula Cole

Vinyl Music Review: Paula Cole, Ballads – Uncanny and Reverent

ALBUM REVIEW: Cher, 3614 Jackson Highway

Life is supposed to be a hit, much like this album.

With all the ups and downs of life lately, I found myself in some tough situations. I have questions from my career to finances, and there doesn’t seem to be a concise decision. My life status is complicated.

 

This was the exact situation Cher found herself in when she released her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway. It had been a few years since Cher or Sonny and Cher had a hit. Their record label ATCO were hoping to change that with this record. Instead of stringing together another standard pop album, they wanted to essentially reproduce what had happened with Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis. They wanted to give Cher a “soul” and “blues” feeling with the top studio musicians.

This is an album of mostly covers with a few newer compositions. Covers were nothing new for Cher. She had done many Bob Dylan covers on her previous albums, but this time they were going to be delivered via Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (Fun fact: Cher was the first to record at their then “new” studio, 3614 Jackson Highway). This was also her first album not produced by Sonny Bono.

The album starts with the Buffalo Springfield cover “For What’s It’s Worth.” This rootsy, almost southern rock arrangement, gives Cher’s voice a completely new venue. The first true gem of this record comes in “(Just Enough to Keep Me) Hangin’ On.” Although this song is a lukewarm song on love, Cher’s voice literally sounds like mascara stained teardrops. This theme continues throughout many of the album’s later cuts.

One can’t ignore her version of “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of The Bay.”  You can hear the dreams in Cher’s voice as she dips her toes in the bay. Side A closes with “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” a cover from Dr. John. Lyrically, this song serves as a precursor to Cher’s future career.


Side B belongs to the ballads, although songs like “Cry Like a Baby” definitely deserve an honorable mention. Cher completely owns the ballad “Please Don’t Tell Me.” This song, again soaked with mascara-stained tears, jars the heart into vulnerability. It places you in the most helpless, yet loving moment. It’s a perfect leeway into the album’s conclusion “Save The Children.” Then there is Cher’s version of “Lay, Baby, Lay,” a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” Cher uses her seductively rich vocals to bring this song a new facade.


 

In my life, I have been learning to find my own voice, and that is what sets this album apart from everything Cher had made previously. This album is in Cher’s voice. She sounds as if she is talking to you from across the table about her hopes, aspirations, and heartbreak, set to a rootsy, Americana, and blues background.

Yet the album was a commercial failure. The critics loved it, but the album itself bombed on the charts stalling at number 160.

So I sit here, 49 years after this album, and I feel a deep connection to it emotionally. Cher’s vocals have always been underrated, and she has truly spoken straight to my being with this album. Life is meant to be a hit, but sometimes we walk through valleys, but they result in beauty.

So let’s look on our past and present struggles through the lens of beauty. Looking back, it will only be a stepping stone to greatness. Basically, we are all a hit. We may be a commercial failure now, but we could be a gypsy, tramp, or thieve tomorrow….or something along those lines.

Check out some of my other articles on Cher:

Cher, Dressed to Kill: There Is no “If,” It’s When

Vinyl Playlist: Slaying Since The 60’s, Happy Birthday Cher!

Vinyl Music Review: Sonny and Cher, The Wondrous World of Sonny and Cher