Music Review: 'Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone' Critic Tom Moon reviews the album Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone, a compilation of covers of her greatest hits performed by popular R&B artists like Usher and Lauren Hill.
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Music Review: 'Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone'

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Music Review: 'Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone'

Music Review: 'Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone'

Music Review: 'Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone'

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Critic Tom Moon reviews the album Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone, a compilation of covers of her greatest hits performed by popular R&B artists like Usher and Lauren Hill.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Singer, pianist and activist Nina Simone is having a revival 12 years after her death. A documentary called "What Happened, Miss Simone?" was released last month, and two more films are due later this year. There's also "Nina Revisted," an all-star tribute album with new treatments of Simone's most iconic songs. We have a review. But first, a heads up. It contains language some may find offensive. Here's music critic Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF NINA SIMONE SONG, "BALTIMORE")

TOM MOON, BYLINE: When the protests over police treatment of Freddie Gray broke out in Baltimore in May, the only recording that seemed to express the frustration of the moment was by Nina Simone from way back in 1978.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALTIMORE")

NINA SIMONE: (Singing) And the people hide their faces. And they hide their eyes because the city's dying, and they don't know why. Oh, Baltimore...

MOON: There's a version of that song on the new tribute project. It's by Jazmine Sullivan. It's OK - sticks close to the original.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BALTIMORE")

JAZMINE SULLIVAN: (Singing) Oh, Baltimore, ain't it hard just to live, just to live?

MOON: I confess. After about a minute, I ran back to Simone's version. Sullivan got the melody but somehow skipped over the heart of the song. She missed what Nina Simone conveyed naturally - the emotional resonance, the layers of meaning beyond words. Vital to Simone's sorcery was killer phrasing and a deep musicality. She was a classically trained pianist. Her version of "For All We Know," recast as a baroque fantasy, shows this dimension.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR ALL WE KNOW")

SIMONE: (Singing) For all we know...

MOON: It's difficult to pay tribute to someone like Nina Simone. Her depth and range have never really been fully appreciated by American audiences. Lauryn Hill, whose last album was in 2002, seems up for the challenge on this Simone classic from 1965.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELING GOOD")

LAURYN HILL: (Singing) Oh, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel. It's a new dawn. It's a new day. It's a new life for me.

MOON: Simone was also a gifted songwriter, and the tribute album includes several of her well-known compositions, or at least parts of them. Curiously, the version of Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" features Lalah Hathaway singing the title phrase over and over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK")

LALAH HATHAWAY: (Singing) Young, gifted and black - to be young, gifted and black.

COMMON: (Rapping) Mississippi, [expletive]. Ferguson, [expletive].

MOON: In between, Common updates Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam," possibly her most famous protest song. In his delivery, he strives to stir hearts sharing what he believes. That's exactly what Nina Simone did over and over in a zillion ways. If at any point you don't feel her spirit running through these tributes, like this one from Lauryn Hill...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD IS THE WIND")

HILL: (Singing) Give me more than one.

MOON: ...Then go back and listen to the Nina Simone originals. It's inescapable there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILD IS THE WIND")

SIMONE: (Singing) Satisfy this hungry man.

SIEGEL: The new release is called "Nina Revisted: A Tribute To Nina Simone." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

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