Most Wanted: Nina Simone – Baltimore (CTI Records)
No matter what a recording may be – the one of an original song as a cover version – everything will depend on the quality of a performance. And also on the ability of the artist to appropriate the song for him/herself. And God knows how Nina Simone has greatly shown as to how she could brilliantly achieve this. From her cover version of Jacques Brel‘s ‘Ne me quitte pas’. To her firing rendition of Claude François’ ‘Comme d’habitude’, titled ‘My Way’. Not to mention ‘Baltimore’ which she took from Randy Newman‘s repertoire back in 1978…
‘Baltimore’ certainly stands among the most vibrant songs by the likes of Newman. We eventually used it as the opening cut to the soundtrack of the video interview we had with Karizma. Although many other artists covered it, ‘Baltimore’ pretty much got overlooked at the time though. Most likely due to the presence of other tracks on Newman‘s album that engendered controversy. Beginning with ‘Short People’ but maybe even more with ‘Jolly Coper’s On Parade’.
Nina Simone would nevertheless give it her own rendition the year after. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise in regards to its political and social theme. With ‘Baltimore’ sounding like an unlikely response to Marvin Gaye‘s ‘Inner City Blues’ and other ‘What’s Going On’. Meanwhile bringin’ it to some unsuspected new level. With thanks to the production work courtesy of label head Creed Taylor. But also its stellar (strings) arrangements by the likes of David Taylor. The whole in a Reggaeish bass driven vein starring Gary King along with Eric Gayle on guitar…
So many things have been said about Nina Simone since the release of her first recordings by the end of the 50’s. And yet, feels like the story is still far from being over. As each song of her remains the subject of some new discovery from a listen to another.
Mind you, the lady has managed to turn everything she would sing into pure gold. Exploring the countless facets of (Black) Music. From Blues to Jazz, and Soul. And she has obviously inspired others reputedly miles away from her own spectrum. Just the way she would find some inspiration in the repertoire of artists hailing from other horizons. From Belgian singer Jacques Brel, bringing his 1959 classic ‘Ne me quitte pas’ to new horizons 6 years after, as a part of her ‘I Put A Spell On You’ album. To French Pop-Dsco star Claude François when delivering an incredible rendition of ‘My Way’. Itself adapted from his classic ‘Comme d’habitude’.
From then on, she would unsurpringly generate the same effect. Meanwhile takin on where Randy Newman left with her cover version of ‘Baltimore’. Eventually turnin’ it into a Reggae/Soul gem. And the list goes on with extra classics such as ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ or ‘I Put A Spell On You’.
Influenced by others, Nina Simone also became a source of inspiration for countless faces in the music industry. And this, way beyond her own scope, regardless its incredible width. With the remixes of her songs eventually leadin’ to way diferent results. Such as ‘Black Is The Colour’ which Abicah Soul reworked back in 2008. Meanwhile Danish producers Lulu Rouge would introduce their own rendition of it 2 years later at the Copenhaguen Jazz Festival. Then what about ‘See Line Woman’ which appeared on Ibadan Records, credited to The Songstress. This with remix by the likes of label head Jerome Sydenham and Kerri Chandler. Then its rework by Louie Vega and Kenny Dope 4 years after on Verve?
And how not to think of ‘Feelin’ Good’ and its syncopated remix by the likes of Todd Terry on one hand? And on the other, its smooth jazzy Quiet Storm feel, as retouched by Joe Claussell. These considerations being just a little snippet of Nina Simone‘s legacy. With her extensive bio to be found on Wikipedia.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the late 80’s, Nina relocated near Aix-en-Provence in southern France in 1993. Suffering from breast cancer for several years, she sadly died in her sleep at her home on Apr. 21, 2003.