Combining the talents of Ms Lauryn Hill, Grace, Usher, Mary J. Blige and others, Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone pays homage to a musician who refused to back down from what she believed in.
Often regarded as one of the greatest musicians in the world, Nina Simone’s music is legendary. From ‘Feelin’ Good’ to ‘I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free’, there is little doubt that almost everybody is familiar with her work. In a time when race relations in the US were at an ultimate high, she gave a voice to those who could not be heard. Released in early July as a companion to the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? (released on Netflix in June 2015) Nina Revisited pays tribute to her legacy by bringing together some of music’s best artist to celebrate and commemorate her life with some of her greatest known songs.
It is often difficult to truly acknowledge the legacy of anyone who is highly regarded in their field, let alone one as well-known as Nina Simone. From the very beginning of this album, as Simone’s daughter Lisa kicks things off with ‘My Mama Could Sing’, it is clear that these musicians will give their all to make this the best tribute album they could produce.
Featuring on no less than six of the album’s tracks, Ms Lauryn Hill comes into her own with an interpretation of ‘Feelin’ Good’ that leaves all others in the dust. Her version is flawless; highlighting the timelessness of the lyrics of what has been a well-covered song over the years. As soon as you hear those a capella vocals, you know you are listening to a great musician. She goes on to give a powerhouse rendition of ‘Ne me Quitte Pas’, the heartache of which transcends any language barriers, before taking on ‘Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair’, ‘Wild is the Wind’ and ‘African Mailman (Instrumental)’.
Traditional Simone fans will perhaps be a little taken aback by Hill’s cover of ‘I’ve Got Life (Version)’ and Common and Lalah Hathaway’s take on ‘We Are Young, Gifted & Black’. Upon first listen, these hip-hop infused interpretations seemed a little sacrilegious of songs which were once great, however, when I looked deeper I realised how these current musicians have taken something which may be considered dated and brought it screaming into the present with their modern twist.
Having become familiar with newcomer Grace’s talents with her cover of ‘You Don’t Own Me’, there is little doubt of her ability to carry a soul tune as she lends her musical stylings to ‘Love Me or Leave Me’. Mary J. Blige (featuring on ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’) reminds listeners why she can be considered one of the best soul singers of her time while Usher shows a sweeter side to his musicality with ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’.
Jazmine Sullivan and Gregory Porter provide decent versions of ‘Baltimore’ and ‘Sinnerman’ respectively before Alice Smith gives a haunting rendition of ‘I Put a Spell on You’. Special mention must also go to Lisa Simone, who pops up yet again on ‘I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl’. This track just goes to prove that her mother’s talent runs in the blood and it is a little disappointing she does not feature more prominently on this album.
This collection is rounded out with a recording of ‘I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free’ by the High Priestess of Soul herself. After all, what tribute album would be complete without a tune from the artist in whose honour the album is being made?
As a whole, this album is a worthy tribute to an inspirational musician and the ultimate companion to Netflix’s documentary.
[Editor/Author Note: This review was originally written for cargoART Magazine in 2015.]