Simone - Simone on Simone (2008)

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    I admit upfront, I'm biased.  I first met Simone (then, Lisa Celeste Stroud) when she was four years old: a mere teenager, I was at London's Heathrow Airport to meet her mother and father on their first visit to Britain.  Mother was the woman for whom I had formed the first UK appreciation society, father her husband and manager.  Many years later, I attended a show at the House Of Blues by a Chicago-based group known as Liquid Soul, fronted by Lisa, now professionally known as Simone.  We briefly talked and I reminded her of my connection with her Mom.  Fast forward a few more years and Simone and I are in much more regular contact.  In the wake of her mother's passing in 2003, we speak more frequently.  By 2007, we've spent more time together in person and when it comes to recording her first solo album, I am assigned to write Simone's bio and the liner notes for the CD.  So you see, I am biased!

    That said, listening to this auspicious debut set, I am struck by Simone's pure musicality.  It isn't just that she inherited Nina's skill as an interpreter, it's that she brings her own wealth of experience as a performer (on Broadway in Rent and Aida among many other key credits) and life itself.  What we get is an even more biting version of Nina's 1968 cut "Go To Hell," an intriguing funky-butt, distinctive and unique take on "Black Is The Color Of My True Lover's Hair" and a soul-deep thought-provoking "I Hold No Grudge," a track from Nina's '66 "High Priestess Of Soul" LP, on which Simone's no-joke ‘chops' are on full display.

    Significantly, Simone wisely doesn't offer covers of songs most obviously associated with her mother such as "I Put A Spell On You," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" or "I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl."  Rather, she digs deep - which is what one would expect from an artist paying tribute to a musical legend such as her Mom.  Particularly enjoyable for me: "Gal From Joe," a personal favorite from Nina's '62 "Ellington" album and the song-with-a-serious-message, "Don't Pay Them No Mind" (also recorded in the ‘60s by Dee Dee Warwick). 

    Bob Belden's big band arrangements are stellar and the musicians perform with panache and verve, most notably on a swinging version of "Love Me Or Leave Me."  Track for track, "Simone On Simone" is a high caliber, well-crafted set: Simone's own highly personal "Child In Me" is poignant and telling and a true standout along with one of the most obscure songs associated with Nina Simone, "Keeper Of The Flame."  Enchantingly mysterious, it weaves a special magic and also embodies exactly what Simone is all about.  She is her mother's daughter and yet, clearly her own woman, the true keeper of the flame, continuing a family tradition of great music. 

    By David Nathan