How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Cabaret singer Natalie Douglas offers To Nina... Live at Birdland as a tribute to the life and songs of the late great Nina Simone. Douglas performs many songs made famous by Simone, including "I Put a Spell On You," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "I Loves You Porgy," "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free," and "Four Women." Douglas engages a live audience for an hour as she shares personal accounts of her connections with Simone's music. She is enjoying herself and the audience seems to be doing the same. Unfortunately, at times, Simone and her music get lost in all of the celebration.
Nina Simone, like Billie Holiday, was celebrated more for her ability to make listeners understand the extent of her love, pain, anger, and struggle than she was for her vocal talents. She was not afraid to say God-damned about injustice, and when she sang it, you knew she meant every word. Alternatively, Douglas is a cabaret singer and that background is a big part of the performance on To Nina. When she belts out those notes and performs, Douglas' connection is with the audience. She does not capture the emotion of the songs like Nina Simone did, which is a great source of disappointment.
What is enjoyable about Douglas' performance is listening in on the sharing that she does with her audience. As she speaks about when she was first exposed to Simone's music, she fosters an understanding about her connection with Simone's music, something that is not so obvious in her singing. The audience's reaction is to that gesture is great to hear because it's full of happiness. They are having fun, and that is hard to ignore.
Although her singing style does not appeal to my personal taste, To Nina deserves a listen. Nina Simone was, as Douglas described her, "one of the great griots of our time." And maybe, to Douglas' credit, it is not how she chose to tell the story, but that she was willing to tell it at all. Here's to Nina.
Track Listing: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free; Summertime/I Loves You Porgy; Work Song;
House of the Rising Sun; I Put A Spell on You; Forbidden Fruit; My Baby Just Cares for Me;
You Can Have Him; Four Women; Intro to Why; Why (The King of Love is Dead); Children
Go Where I Send You; Natalie tells a story; His Eye is on the Sparrow.
Personnel: Natalie Douglas: vocals; Mark Hartman: piano;
Patience Higgins: tenor saxophone;
Sean McDaniel: percussion;
Steve Doyle: bass.