REVIEW: Nina Simone “Little Girl Blue”

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Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue

This Nina Simone debut LP from the one-off 1959 Bethlehem LP (recorded in 1957) & remastered by BMG is music that showcases the richness of the ambiance of 50s separated stereo.

These tunes, prior to Nina’s personality sliding into a more caustic, angry & bewildering mood shows how wonderfully Nina performed ballads. She sang pristinely, poignantly, with power & color. Not syrupy pop tunes like Patti Page, not the softer standards of Lena Horne. This was closer to a versatile Shirley Bassey gossamer. Yet the Welsh Bassey wasn’t bluesy, she just had that tone that early Nina possessed with jazz-inflected tints. Early in Bassey’s career, she came under the tutelage of Columbia’s Mitch Miller rather than a bonafide jazz producer. She became more adult contemporary.

Nina, a North Carolina born piano prodigy, Julliard-trained artist began to sing in nightclubs with haunting, memorable songs (especially the lovely Rodgers-Hart “Little Girl Blue,” which became a hit years later for Janis Joplin). It shows Nina’s vocal exceptionalism combining the classicalism of her 19th Century romantic piano repertoire into her jazz interpretations. She was not an entirely true soul artist but possessed soul when she sang her jazz with standard instincts. Nina was an original. She never slid into shlock music, middle-of-the-road, or lounge & slowly conscience of making a statement.

“My Baby Just Cares For Me,” recorded in NYC is a great song but her vocals seem buried here in this take with the snare dominant. During this era, Bethlehem gave Nina selection over the material. Rare for an artist to have that. What’s impressive was that Nina recorded her songs in one take with Jimmy Bond (bass) & Albert “Tootsie” Heath (drums).

This 11-cut Little Girl Blue (Bethlehem/BMG-Drops Aug 13) originally produced /engineered by Kevin Gray is reissued by Omnivore & remaster produced by Grammy Award winners Michael Graves & Cheryl Pawelski.

“Good Bait,” — a 5-minute plus Count Basie/Tadd Dameron instrumental played moodier is a good showcase for Nina’s piano skills. Her instrumental of Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” is a beaut. Nina for all her Civil Rights was quite a diversified artist & played songs written by artists you wouldn’t think she’d listen to Janis Ian, Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl,” Gershwin, Jacques Brel, the Bee Gees. Her choice of material retained an eclecticism from pop to folk & spiritual.

Color image courtesy David Redfern/Getty Images

Even if not a jazz fan this LP has class & sounds as if it was recorded yesterday. The 46-minute CD available @ Amazon/Discogs. https://www.bmg.com/us/news/BMG-celebrates-the-legacy-of-Nina-Simone.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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