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Various Artists: Round Nina: A Tribute to Nina Simone

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A dozen years have passed since Nina Simone left us, yet it’s taken until now for a substantial tribute album to emerge. Making up for lost time, this 10-track import pays superlative homage to the singularly vibrant Simone in all her musical hues.

Welcomingly, Round Nina is more a voyage of discovery than an exercise in backwards glancing. Recorded in Paris, in settings ranging from sparse to orchestral, the collection features an international array of vocalists, many of whom will be revelations to most Stateside listeners.

Two Americans, among the finest contemporary vocalists around, also figure into the dynamic guest list. Gregory Porter, accompanied by a somber string orchestra augmented by harpist Christophe Minck, with Melody Gardot providing backing vocals, delivers a dense, near-sinister “Black Is the Color (of My True Love’s Hair).” Gardot moves center stage for Simone’s most celebrated composition, “Four Women,” and her reading is a reminder that the song speaks about black women but for all women who face oppression or discrimination.

All eight remaining tracks are equally impressive, highlighted by British folk singer Lianne La Havas’ caliginous “Baltimore,” South Korean jazz stylist Youn Sun Nah’s nakedly powerful “Plain Gold Ring,” Swiss-based Brit Sophie Hunger’s explosive “I Put a Spell on You” and a soulful “Feeling Good” from France’s Ben L’Oncle Soul (who bears a striking vocal resemblance to Simone). But the standout of this olio is Nigerian Keziah Jones’ reggae-tinted “Sinnerman,” as seismic a tour de force as anything Simone ever crafted.

Originally Published