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Ghost Canyon

Title - Nina Simone and Her Friends [2021 Stereo]
Artist - Nina Simone

For those unaware, originally released by Bethlehem Records in 1959, Nina Simone and Her Friends was a compilation album comprising the few remaining unreleased tracks from the 1957 Little Girl Blue recording session plus songs recorded by two other former Bethlehem artists, the powerhouse jazz vocalist Carmen McRae and the elegant song stylist Chris Connor.

An RSD-Essentials exclusive “emerald-green” limited-edition 180-gram LP will be available, along with CD and digital/streaming versions (high-definition and standard) on December 3rd, 2021.

The reissue features a fresh stereo master done by four-time Grammy winner Michael Graves as well as a vinyl remastering by the renowned Kevin Gray. Grammy winner Cheryl Pawelski produced the set, which includes a new essay by Daphne A. Brooks, author of Liner Notes for the Revolution.

1. Nina Simone – “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”
2. Chris Conner – “Someone to Watch Over Me”
3. Carmen McRae – “Old Devil Moon”
4. Nina Simone – “I Loves You, Porgy”
5. Chris Connor – “I Concentrate on You”
6. Carmen McRae – “You Made Me Care”
7. Nina Simone – “For All We Know”
8. Chris Connor – “From This Moment On”
9. Carmen McRae – “Too Much in Love to Care”
10. Nina Simone – “African Mailman”
11. Chris Connor – “All This and Heaven Too”
12. Carmen McRae – “Last Time for Love”

Featuring compiled songs by jazz singers Nina Simone, Carmen McRae and Chris Connor, listening to this joyous, harmonious 2021 Stereo recording today it’s hard to believe that back then all three artists had left the label and signed with other companies by the time Bethlehem originally released this album.

The numbers by Simone were previously unissued left overs from the recording sessions for her debut album Little Girl Blue (1958) and were actually released without her knowledge.

Tracks such as the soft and sultry “I Loves You, Porgy” (whose regular version from Little Girl Blue became a Billboard Chart top 20 hit in 1957) and the dulcet piano instrumental “African Mailman” are, for me, two of the genuine highlights here.

And although every track here is a genuine reflection of the sheer talent that Nina Simone and company possessed, other highly laudable tracks also include the traditional African-American spiritual, and her deeply registered opener “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” Carmen McRae’s gentle vocal hipsway on “You Made Me Care,” Chris Connor’s gently fervent, finger-snapping “From This Moment On,” and, of course, a quite breathtaking “Last Time for Love” from McRae perfectly rounds out the musical memories.

As Brooks explains in her essay, “Bethlehem clustered their work — tracks that had previously appeared on the label’s Girlfriends compilation — together with the younger, upstart Simone’s and essentially offered up a collection of songs that span a range of genres — folk, jazz, pop song staples, and torch song laments, plus a couple of provocative original compositions by McRae and Simone.”

“Each track is a reminder of the clear-eyed independence, verve, and confidence of three artists whose music, taken together, brims with the majesty and the assured talents of the late 1950s women artists who led with conviction and invention as musicians and song interpreters.”

At the time, Simone was in her mid-20s and still aspiring to be a classical concert pianist. As Brooks describes it: “A magisterial original composition of Simone’s which, as she recounts it, ‘was made up on the spot in the studio and recorded in one take,’ finds her moving across an Afrodiasporic terrain of percussion, leading at the keyboard, rolling and tumbling, building waves of contrasting chromatic depth and spinning, ethereal flight.”

Amazon Purchase Link

Nina Simone - “African Mailman” (Official Audio)