Pastel Blues – Nina Simone

Nina Simone is a master and this is an incredible album. It may be an album of covers, but these are the primary versions of these songs. Her singing is incredible and I don’t understand how she does things with her voice that not any other artist could pull off; I wouldn’t say it’s “perfect” because it’s completely off the scale, but I would say she’s the best vocalist there ever was. It’s so emotive and she does so many things I would never have thought to do; the album opens with “Be My Husband”, a song that basically features Simone’s voice alone, and it is a beautiful song which you can get so into. (“Strange Fruit” is also incredible and carried by her voice.) Of course, her totally original voice works beautifully over simple major piano waltzes like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” and “Ain’t No Use”, where she shifts into the position of a more traditional frontwoman and does it better than anyone I’ve ever heard. The piano is also really interesting, especially on “Ain’t No Use”, where Nina’s soloing is just awesome. She also succeeds where the album gets somber, on “End Of The Line” and “Strange Fruit”, where the harmony she selects perfectly fits each song and her voice takes such a precise character that perfectly fits the lyrics she’s singing. The band is probably good, but I wasn’t paying attention to them; the harmonica on “Tell Me More And Then Some” and the guitar on “Trouble In Mind” are both high points that add a lot to the song, but, I mean, they have to contend with the greatest vocalist of all time. Of course, the highlight on the album is “Sinnerman”, which has an amazing groove, wonderful piano harmonies, and audacious, legendary repetitive sections that make my heart beat faster; it’s so good that there are famous songs about this recording. It is a ten minute song that hits you with the breakdown at three and a half minutes, letting you just listen to that one awesome piano riff, a single guitar note each measure, and then goes into a piano solo over clapping alone; the way the percussion changes whenever she starts to sing “Power” is just so cool and we’d all do well to learn how she completely changes the rhythm without dropping the rhythm. Every time it seems like the song is ending, you will wish for it not to, check how far along the song is, and be happy. I have to get into more work by this artist.

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