Nina Simone: Ballads & Blues

Recompilation on 180g yellow vinyl covers the ballads well enough but blues-wise misses such as Mississippi Goddam and I Wish I Knew


With four tracks less, this is broadly a reissue of a compilation last released back in 2019 by Matchball. I gave it a mixed review then and not a lot has changed since. The obvious difference with this release and the previous one (apart from fewer tracks) is that it comes in canary yellow and 180-gram weight vinyl. Audiophile quality is deemed to be better at 180g, but there is a debate amongst collectors as to whether weight makes any noticeable improvement. 

I have no issue with the selection of the ballad tracks other than it is both safe and predictable. The real issue lies with the choices for the blues component of this album. Despite often being described as a jazz and/or a blues singer, Simone was not so easily categorised.

She did have a liking for Oscar Peterson and McCoy Tyner, hoping that posterity would compare them favourably with Bach and Beethoven but her real strength lay in her capacity to straddle multiple genres (including folk, gospel and soul) without being wedded to any one. She was first and foremost a popular entertainer, albeit a reluctant one; she had wanted to be a classical pianist, with everything else being second best.

This selection of blues material is not fully representative of the passion and emotion that Simone could inject into her performances. Where are Mississippi Goddam, Strange Fruit, Backlash Blues or I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free? The inclusion of My Baby Just Cares For Me (neither ballad nor blues) as a bonus track is irritating and without compelling reason.

The liner notes by Ronald Sims are good but not linked specifically to any of the tracks. Compilations like this can work but they often remind me of the way the wine industry invents spurious wineries in order to sell bottles of surplus wine. They are a marketing invention, and this album is just that. If it were needed, it could have been done better.

(1) I Loves You Porgy; Little Girl Blue; (2) Solitude; (3) Willow Weep For Me; (4) Memphis In June; (1) For All We Know; (3) Blue Prelude; (5) Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair; (6) Trouble In Mind; (4) Gin House Blues; (7) House Of The Rising Sun; (5) Fine And Mellow; (4) Rags And Old Iron; (8) Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out; (1) My Baby Just Cares For Me (54.27)
Simone (v, p) all tracks with:
(1) Jimmy Bond (b); Albert “Tootie” Heath (d). New York, December 1957.
(2) The Malcolm Dodds Choir, Ralph Burns (con, arr). New York, 1962.
(3) Bob Mersey (con, arr). New York, 1959.
(4) Same personnel as above. New York, 1960-1.
(5) Wilbur Ware (b); Ben Riley (d). New York, 12 September 1959.
(6) Al Shackman (g); Chris White (b); Bobby Hamilton (d). Newport, Rhode Island, 30 June 1960.
(7) Same personnel as (6). Live At The Village Gate, New York, April 1961.
(8) Stu Phillips (con), New York, 1959-60.
Waxtime In Color 950729