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.

Your Post Valentine’s Day Playlist

Another year has come and with that year has come another Valentine’s day. While all my friends seem to get married or find themselves in long-term relationships, I still find myself sitting alone with my record collection.

As I have become more independent in my thinking and thoughts, I have also become a tad sour. I now love going out to eat by myself, but now the couple across the way really wears me out. I go to a movie and see a couple, and I have a gag reflex. If I see one more marriage album I might burn it!

Ok, so really I am just all out bitter.

For this post Valentine’s day playlist I have collected some of my favorite love songs. I hope you enjoy.

  1. “Down With Love” -Judy Garland

This one perfectly sums up my feelings on love and all its friends. For my life the moon is wrapped cellophane. I refuse to be a member of boo-hoomanity any longer.

2. “Goody, Goody” -Della Reese

Basically the 1936 version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone.” If this is all I have to look forward to than love is not for me!!

3. “My Big Iron Skillet” -Wanda Jackson

I am not much of a cooker but skillet’s sound a lot more attractive than silk. Here’s more on this song.

4. “The Walk” -Mayer Hawthorne

Guns and ammo? I can’t think of a better combination.

5. “My Coloring Book” -Bobby Rydell

Then there is heartbreak. I now refer you back to number 1.

In the end, I truly hope everybody had an amazing Valentines day as reflected in the songs I have chosen. If you’re down with love, and cooked with a big iron skillet yesterday, goody goody!

Now I am going to take a walk to my coloring book. Oh, those are bullets not crayons you say?

I have equal use!

Love to all the lovers from your optimistic vinyl spinning friend.

 

Ella Fitzgerald, Get Happy!: Building a House

In continuing with my alphabet series, I, like most people reciting the alphabet, came to the letter “F.” To be honest, I’m not sure if it is a widespread issue, but I did not have very many artist associated with the letter “F.”

Then came along Ms. Fitzgerald. I remembered I had a few of her vinyls and I ellafitzgerald-gethappyespecially am fond of one entitled “Get Happy.” This was one of those lucky Goodwill finds.

Now I am no expert on Fitzgerald, but from what I can tell she was nothing but highly acclaimed. She sang many “Songbooks” from composers, as well as recording original material. Her label at the point of this record was Verve which was actually created around the production of her albums.

I love a good Jazz record and Fitzgerald is one of the best, but I noticed something new as I listened this time around. I am familiar with many old blues and jazz artists, but I find one of the most influential figures in this musical movement is Lady Day, Billie Holiday. Fitzgerald seems to be an extension of where Holiday left off due to her untimely death.

fite007Jazz and blues music seems to encompass everything from arrangements, to instrumentation, to vocal styles. You can hear a song from this genre sung 100 different ways and every way be as good as the next. Vocals were flexible and nothing is out of bounds.

Fitzgerald continued to innovate and play with jazz and blues music through her vocal phrasing and her legendary scatting ability. One can point back to many of her vocal styles that encompass later pop vocalists. I thought I even sensed some rockabilly tendencies at times. Her vocal stylings were not exclusive to her genre, but universal to the sculpting of future performers.

The album opens with “Somebody Loves Me,” a tune about looking for the one who loves you (and it could be you!). She then goes into a vulnerable subject in “Cheerful, Little Fearful,” explaining the reluctance of hearing “I love you.” This song is especially interesting considering that this could make a great ballad, yet it is offset by a compulsive beat and rather “happy” vocals. Side One ends with “Cool Breeze.” You may have trouble looking up the lyrics to this one, it’s pure scatting.

Side two opens with “Moonlight Become You,” a beautiful ballad of the simplicity of Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie 12love. She does a great version of “You Turned The Tables on Me” and goes straight into a big band interpretation of “Gypsy in My Soul.” The real gem on this side is “Goody Goody.” This song will have you laughing and Fitzgerald’s deliverance has perfect comedic timing. She’s so happy her ex found someone else (goody! goody!), but is also happy when she breaks his heart (goody! goody!).

I fell Fitzgerald’s vocal abilities transcend time. She sounds just as fresh and crisp when compared with modern vocalists. Where Billie Holiday poured a foundation, Ella Fitzgerald built a house. For this music lovers we should be forever grateful, for I’m not sure what later music would have sounded like with out the influence of Fitzgerald and modern jazz music.

Goody! Goody!