If your appreciation for Nina Simone begins and ends with “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” consider Four Women: The Nina Simone Philips Recordings (Verve) essential listening. The timing of the box set’s release, arriving just weeks after her death at age 70, is sadly propitious. Originally intended as an appreciation of the singular Simone at the height of her creative power, the four discs now seem more eulogistic. Like any good eulogy, they focuses solely on the dearly departed’s positive attributes-the immensity and diversity of her skills as singer, songwriter and social commentator-neatly sidestepping the well-publicized negatives (her notoriously uneven temperament and egotistic indifference to lesser mortals, paying customers chief among them). Having cut her musical teeth at Bethlehem, earned a smidgen of crossover popularity (enough to cement her lifelong aversion to the industry’s crasser commercial aspects) with her tremulously feisty “I Loves You, Porgy,” and established her uncompromising standards with a superb series of Colpix discs, Simone was ready, willing and able to don her “High Priestess of Soul” mantle when she arrived at Philips in 1964. Over the course of three years, she would deliver seven albums-Nina Simone in Concert, Broadway Blues Ballads, I Put a Spell on You, Pastel Blues, Let It All Out, Wild Is the Wind and High Priestess of Soul-all of which are chronologically assembled here.
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