‘Nina Revisited’ Is An Exceptional Tribute Album
Nina Revisited is a rarity when it comes to compilations featuring various artists. It’s a legitimate, exceptional tribute album to a legendary musician.
Tribute albums can be a music critic’s worst nightmare. Often, the artists paying tribute don’t have the same “oomph” or sensibilities of the artist being celebrated. Tribute albums can expose the weaknesses of artists paying tribute. This doesn’t occur on Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone. Nina Revisited bucks the pitfalls, exceeding expectations. Ultimately, the selected artists do justice to the late, great Nina Simone.
Following intro “My Mama Could Sing,” Lauryn Hill gives the famed “Feeling Good” a traditional cover. Hill’s voice sounds older and coarser than it did back in 1998, expectedly. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill happened nearly 20 years ago and Hill is 40. Still, she delivers the similar passion and grit that Simone incorporated.
“I’ve Got Life”
On the seven-and-a-half minute “I’ve Got Life,” the opposite can be said. “Life” is a stark contrast to the original, “Ain’t Got No – I Got Life,” but channels the spirit. A sample is incorporated, while Hill raps compellingly. “Ne Me Quitte Pas” concedes no momentum, with Hill showing off her gruffer, yet rich contralto. The emotional investment upon her delivery of the classic is breathtaking. Another contralto takes the reins on the reggae-tinged “Baltimore” – Jazmine Sullivan. Interestingly, the dramatic Sullivan sounds unusually more restrained and poised. She performs well, but infusing more bite would’ve been welcomed.
“My Baby Just Cares For Me”
Australian singer-songwriter Grace takes over the reins “Love Me Or Leave Me,” delivering another complete performance. Her voice sounds beautiful and nuanced. Usher becomes the first male to tackle Simone. In his hands, “My Baby Just Cares For Me” receives an urban contemporary makeover, but retains the jazzy sensibility. Vocally, Usher sounds polished with this particular arrangement.
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
The ‘Queen of Hip-Hop Soul,’ Mary J. Blige, knocks “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” out of the park. Like the Usher performance, it’s amazing how attuned producers were to artistic sensibilities. Gregory Porter never misses, with “Sinnerman” providing another prime example. Porter holds his own. He’s at his best when he lets loose towards the end.
“We Are Young Gifted & Black”
“To Be Young, Gifted & Black” is transformed into “We Are Young Gifted & Black” in the hands Common and adult R&B musician Lalah Hathaway. Hathaway tackles the hook with beautiful control, while Common raps in Simone’s activist-driven vein. Two particular moments stand out: (1) Common’s extension of the “Mississippi Goddam” sentiment and (2) Hathaway’s scatting at the end.
Alice Smith tackles “I Put A Spell On You.” Those expecting a traditional take will be stunned. Smith’s interpretation is out of the box, encompassing alt-rock and alt-soul. It works, though purists will be off put. Lisa Simone returns on a rock solid take of “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl.”
“Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair”
Lauryn Hill’s return on “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair” is nothing short of epic. As stunning as her pipes sound (particularly those signature runs), the production behind her is among the crème de la crème of Nina Revisited. There’s a psychedelic edge that’s amplified by the synths, while the groove hearkens back to classic soul. Hill doesn’t stop there, delivering a dramatic, artistic performance on “Wild Is The Wind” and concluding her contributions with instrumental track “African Mailman.”
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”
Most editions of Nina Revisited closes with the late, great artist herself, performing the Dick Dallas/Billy Taylor-penned 1960s freedom song, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.” Those who partake of Nina Revisited from Google get an extra treat – two bonus tracks! Those two extra goodies are “Stars” (Lisa Simone) and fittingly, “Mississippi Goddam” (Andra Day).
Often times, compilations end up being only so-so at best. That isn’t the case in the least with Nina Revisited, which is one of the better tribute albums you’ll hear. Sure, the artists paying ode to Simone don’t supersede her classic performances or her immense artistry, but all of them do a fine job of embodying her spirit through their respective approaches. No question that Ms. Lauryn Hill takes top honors here – she continues to make us hunger for a comeback.
Gems: “Feeling Good,” “I’ve Got Life,” “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “We Are Young Gifted & Black” & “Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair”