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Album Review: Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone by Various Artists
Very Good, Based on 7 Critics
New York Daily News (Jim Faber) - 80 Based on rating 4/5
A richly deserved flurry of attention has surrounded the late singer Nina Simone, inspired by the unflinching new documentary on her life, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (Catch it on Netflix.) Now comes a related tribute album, with the participation of the icon’s daughter, Lisa Simone. It owes its success, however, to the efforts of Lauryn Hill. The former Fugee contributed six songs, all of which make her understanding of Simone palpable.
While the year 2015 saw the release of three films inspired by the maverick and icon Nina Simone, Nina Revisited is attached to the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, a loving tribute itself, but also a painfully honest one. This possible soundtrack takes a more abstract route while offering the same love and reverence, and it's also an almost-solo album from Lauryn Hill, the driving force behind six of the album's 16 tracks. A traditional and stately take on "Feeling Good" is the obvious pick for the artist, but her bold and vicious delivery of "I've Got Life" is equally as grand.
Cover songs inevitably invite comparison: play it straight, you'd better represent; switch it up, you'd better make it your own. Serving as the companion to the much-lauded documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, this 16-track affair sees big-name artists deliver their takes on Nina Simone standards, to varying degrees of success. It's key to note that a fair chunk of Simone's own material was itself a reinterpretation of others' material, so modern standards like "Feeling Good" and "Sinnerman" have always been very much open to interpretation.Lauryn Hill steps into the spotlight to tackle "Feeling Good," and while she does an admirable job, it ultimately has you yearning for Simone's more emotionally immediate version.
Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone is an incredibly difficult project to come to terms with. That's partially due to an inability to come to terms with Simone, whose penetrating breadth and pointed sagacity, to this day, remains a source of both comfort and discomfort to listeners. It's also because the project—co-executive produced by Ms.
Nina Simone was a performer first and foremost; her recordings had to translate the drama and intensity of her live presence. This tribute set finds some of her clearest heirs — Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Common — reworking her standards with love, but the results veer sharply between transcendent and tepid. Hill brings power and grace to classics like "Feeling Good" and "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." Singer-songwriter Alice Smith nearly steals the show with her bewitching "I Put a Spell on You." But it's Simone's own voice on the album's closing number, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," that reminds us what, and who, we're missing.
This new tribute to the late, unquestionably great Nina Simone starts with a brief intro: a slip of a track with a pleasant groove, over which the iconic singer’s daughter Lisa expresses the sentiment “My Mama Could Sing. ” In the grand understatement category, that title ranks high. It also makes you wonder what the need was, exactly, for the mixed bag of 15 mostly solid tracks that follow.
In Liz Garbus's new documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Nina Simone's guitarist, Al Schackman, explains that the late singer and pianist had a way of taking a piece of music and "metamorphosizing it" - or morphing it into her own experience. Songs she chose to cover often became standards, and a handful of those are included on Nina Revisited, a Robert Glasper-co-produced companion album to Garbus's doc. It boasts many beautiful arrangements and performances (especially from Gregory Porter, Jazmine Sullivan and Mary J.