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/

PLAYLIST: Protest Songs, Let’s Not Make Another List

The world is hurting. From the earthquake in Mexico, the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and those being savagely ripped apart at the hands of war, lives are being stolen all around us. There is reason to protest.

The heart and soul of our nation, world, and human race are hurting, bleeding more and more with every catastrophe. What adds even more wounds to the mix is the attitudes of people. There are some amazing people with great means stepping up to help victims of these tragedies, yet the same political, cultural, and meanness of society is in full force.

Just go on any social media medium and scroll through the feeds. Hate is all around us, even in these most trying times. I will never understand how to look at others through the lenses of race, religion, sex, or orientation. None of that denies the basic rights of being a member of the human race.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with “protest” songs. I like to call them songs with a purpose. There are great compositions from yesterday that both remind us of how far we’ve come, but even more so, how far we need to go. Here’s a list of a few songs speaking to me today.

1. “Strange Fruit”

“Strange Fruit” is one of the most haunting, socially aware songs ever produced. It laid the groundwork for songs with a purpose. It was truly the pioneer. What does it mean for us today? I never want to loosen this songs ties to the brutality the African American community faced in the past and current day, but for me, at this moment, the bodies in the trees are those that you choose not to associate with just because you are different. This can range from race all the way to political party. This disassociation only causes deeper divides amongst humans and provides nothing for solutions.

2.”Blowin’ In The Wind” 

Bob Dylan originally wrote this song, but it has been covered by many artists. My favorite version, and I would argue the most popular version, is Peter, Paul, and Mary’s. As Paul points out in this video, this song is composed of 9 questions. Although for me, each question can only be answered by another question. The two questions that strike me the most are “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” and “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” These questions were relevant in the 1960’s and they are especially relevant to this day, yet these question are so simple and can be easily answered.

3. “What’s Going On”

Again, I do not want to cheapen this song’s meaning to the people of African American decent and it’s purpose in the Civil Rights movement. I agree with every sentiment and hardship this song portrays against African Americans, but today so many more prejudices have come into light. The questions this song asks should be archaic. They should not even be applicable to today, yet here we are years later still wondering what’s going on.

4.”Mississippi Goddam”

Nina Simone‘s voice on any track speaks straight to my soul, but this one catches me on a different level because she wrote it. Today, many different locations can substitute the word “Mississippi” like Ferguson, Charlottesville, or Flint, just to name a few. This song evokes anger, but more importantly it brings about frustration. It’s not about hiding our flaws as a society of humans, it’s about fixing them. Let’s never say “goddam” again.

5.”I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”

Nina Simone originally made this song popular in the 1960’s. I wanted to provide a more updated version for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to list two Nina Simone videos in this list, although you can never have enough of Ms. Simone. Second, I wanted to show how relevant this song is today. As I sit at my piano and look over this song, the line that always strikes me is “I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart.” If we all showed love, with no strings attached, then there would be no reason for this list or a single “protest” song.

In the end, giving love and expecting nothing in return is all our world needs. It’s so simple that we just don’t get it. Even the best of us that try, will fail, but if we all work together, we can create a movement. There is a solution. Show kindness through love today to prevent a list like this being created tomorrow. Let’s prevent the protest.

ALBUM REVIEW: 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 is a spiritual experience.

Nina Simone Baltimore
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, on other albums 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. It’s 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.

Nina Simone Baltimore
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, and 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 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.