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A Worthy Collection
on January 5, 2009
I've owned the complete Nina Simone discography for some time, but I wanted this box set specifically for the 8 previously unreleased tracks and the 1970 documentary that I assumed had been lost.
The new material is fantastic. I'd gladly have paid just to hear the new, live recording of "Suzanne" included in this set. It's a brilliant concert piece, equal parts bold and vulnerable. I'd heard Nina sing with her brother Samuel at a 1968 Paris concert on the album Live at the Great Show, but if not for the release of "Let it Be Me" included on this set for the first time, I would never have known how truly talented and soulful he was. Music must have been a familial trait.
The DVD is brief (only about 20 minutes) but packs a punch. Nina is engaging and captivating, especially when she muses with her interviewer that freedom must be the equivalent of having no fear. A rehearsal cut of "Don't You Pay Them No Mind" before a concert is overwhelming. This was always one of my favorite songs on the High Priestess of Soul album and to see her perform it with the accompaniment of her grand piano, her mighty vibrato trembling with emotion, is something to behold. She closes a concert with "I Wish I Knew How (It Would Feel to Be Free)," taking the song in a new and liberating direction, singing along and quoting Bible scripture while her band provides a hypnotic melody.
This could easily pass as an introduction to Nina Simone's work, if that is what you're looking for. I don't agree with all of the choices included here as a career spanning collection, but this is an artist who recorded so many albums on so many different labels, if you took two Nina fans and asked them to assemble her best work, you'd inevitably come up with two completely different collections. It's part of the beauty of her music.
Attached to the set is a booklet with extensive track notes for every song, written by David Nathan, a founder of Nina's British fan club and frequent biographer of her life and career. While strained in some parts, his devotion to the artist is clear.
This is a great collection and I'm thankful to the producers who continue to memorialize this incomparably brilliant, yet often overlooked Diva of song.