RCA/Legacy’s The Soul of Nina Simone attempts to explore the heart of the iconic namesake through her music and film clips of her performances. Unfortunately, the DualDisc format is used with mixed results.
The audio portion of the program is, at best, predictable. The set features popular songs such as “Look of Love” and “Save Me,” as well as recently appropriated “hits” such as the Chanel No.5 theme “My Baby Just Cares for Me” and the Six Feet Under acquisition “Feeling Good.” Two previously unreleased live cuts, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and a medley of Porgy and Bess numbers, are welcome additions to the wide body of Simone recordings, but they hardly make the track listing less conservative.
The DVD segment, however, is priceless. The footage includes her 1960 television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and two performances from the late ’60s, notably her never-before-seen-in-the-U.S. appearance at the 1969 Harlem Festival. These all-too-brief clips chronicle Simone at pivotal moments in her career. Her Sullivan appearance gathers a glimpse of a raw and determined Simone, both eager to prove and confident in her potential.
Aside from the marvel of her youthful appearance is the wonder of her percussive piano style. During her “Love Me or Leave Me” solo, the camera pulls in to watch her hands push out each note with tremendous command and force. Her later performances at the famed Greenwich Village boho spot the Bitter End and at the Harlem Festival are looser but even more authoritative. Blazing readings of “House of the Burning Sun” and “Go to Hell” highlight her downtown set, and during the aforementioned uptown performance she practically bites into her microphone to emphasize syllables and thrusts her arms up dramatically to reign in her group. With her unflinching gaze and enrapturing presence captured on manageable amounts of celluloid, The Soul of Nina Simone at least provides a glimpse into her spirit.
Legacy Recordings Web site