Every once in a while an homage project comes along actually doing what it sets out to do: pay homage. That the object of the present homage is the enigmatic Nina Simone
makes Canadian Kellylee Evans' Nina
that much more a definitive statement of a courageous cultural career. Add to this that Evans thoughtfully does not cover Simone's "Mississippi Goddamn," and this collection is properly frames not only Simone, but also Evans, whose musical vision, already established, is a formidable one.
Evans employs a small, uncomplicated band for her spare treatment of the Simone songbook. The piano trio is replaced by a svelte guitar trio led by guitarist Marvin Sewell
, whose damped round tone provides a retro-Herb Ellis
tone. Evans effects a performance of the traditional "Sinnerman" that lays half-way between Simone's 1965 recording pm Pastel Blues
(Philips), and Peter Tosh's reggae incarnation "Downpressor Man," from Equal Rights
(CBS, 1977). Sewell plays a soupy slide guitar over Francois Moutin
's burping jungle groove, propelled by Andre "Dede" Ceccarelli
's snare-less drumming. Evans sings with a relaxed urgency, one not unlike Simone.
But amidst it all, Evans retains her own potent identity with material that would have eaten lesser talent alive. Simone is properly honored while Evans is properly framed.