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Nina Simone, In Concert (Philips)
From the starkly emotional “I Loves You, Porgy” to the scathing “Mississippi Goddam,” this live 1964 concert album presents various facets of Nina Simone’s remarkable artistry. She’s a balladeer, a torch singer, a blues singer, a protest singer and one helluva pianist, as made plain by her unaccompanied read of the smoldering “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” Elsewhere, the contributions of her bandmates — guitarist Rudy Stevenson, bassist Lisle Atkinson and drummer Bobby Hamilton — add muscle to her window-rattling vibrato and classical-and-church-influenced piano.
Simone fully inhabits the character of Pirate Jenny in the song of the same name, acting as much as singing the darkly dramatic tune from The Threepenny Opera, which provides a stunning centerpiece to the album. But it’s the triumvirate of civil rights tunes, written or co-written by Simone, that mark this date as a bold outing, even in the presumably Liberal environs of Carnegie Hall. On the bluesy “Old Jim Crow,” Simone lets the racist establishment know that a new day has come. In contrast, the almost nursery-rhyme-like “Go Limp” utilizes the language of passive resistance to playfully warn young girls of the dangers of seduction at NAACP marches. And finally, “Mississippi Goddam” blows the lid off the pressure cooker, as Simone calls out racist states for a reckoning. Even with its jaunty rhythm and catchy melody, the singer’s anger and frustration are unmissable. “The name of this tune is ‘Mississippi Goddam,’” she says in the intro. “And I mean every word of it.” — Bob WeinbergFeature image of Nina Simone courtesy of the artist, circa 1968