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September 2007

Nina Simone
Just Like a Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the ’60s
RCA/Legacy

With singers of all stylistic stripes mining platinum via proven standards in recent years, the economic incentive for record companies to hawk thematic oldies collections is understandably tempting. The difference here, of course, is that this is no nostalgia trip for an aging artist bereft of new ideas. Nina Simone has been dead for four years, and a skeptic might question whether such a forward-thinking, often radical artist would have entered the studio anew to look so far backward. Thus this posthumously assembled 14-song set of cherry-picked covers isn’t so much Simone singing songs of the ’60s as Simone from the ’60s (and early ’70s). These compositions were relatively contemporary when she cut them and, as she always did, Simone was simply recasting favored, if often unexpected, material in her own image.

Although taking on Dylan (three tunes, including the title track), the Bee Gees (“To Love Somebody”) or George Harrison (“Here Comes the Sun”) was hardly a risky move, Simone’s radar extended out to the fringes as well, to newcomers such as Randy Newman (a solo-piano treatment of “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”) and Sandy Denny (a tender “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”), and into the worlds of country and folk (troubadours Hoyt Axton and Jerry Jeff Walker). More often than not, Simone deconstructed the familiar to imbue each piece with her distinctive stamp: Leonard Cohen’s oft-interpreted “Suzanne” is stripped of its minimalist dirge and given a Caribbean lilt while “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” adapted by Pete Seeger from Ecclesiastes, then a folk-rock hit for the Byrds, returns to its gospel root. Only one song, the album-closing, orchestrated Judy Collins composition “My Father,” breaks concept, recorded as it was in 1978. Still, it’s a fitting coda and loving tribute, much like the album itself—marketing scheme or not.

Originally published in September 2007
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