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Sunday, February 21, 2010



320 KBPS

There's no question that Nina Simone is richly deserving of a three-CD, 51-song box set such as To Be Free. From the late '50s until her death, she was one of the great unclassifiable pop singers of the 20th century, and if her voluminous recording career was erratic, the first 15 years at any rate had many highlights. Any complaint about this particular package has more to do with the balance of eras represented than the quality of the contents, which is generally very good. If one is to criticize, however, it's that it does seem heavily weighted toward her 1967-1973 recordings for RCA, which take up about two-thirds of the three audio discs. Perhaps that's because it's on the RCA/Legacy label, but certainly a good case could be made that her pre-1967 recordings for a variety of other companies (most often Philips) were worthy of greater representation. To focus on the positives, however, most of disc one does include strong pre-RCA tracks from the first decade of her recording career, including some of her best-known classics of the time, like "My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "See-Line Woman," "I Put a Spell on You," and "Four Women." While the RCA era arguably saw her move too much into pop-oriented production on occasion and too many covers of pop/rock hits, the selections from that era are chosen with intelligence, including a good number of live tracks. The two post-1973 cuts — one from 1978 and one from her final proper album, 1993's A Single Woman — seem like afterthoughts to ensure that most of her career was covered in some way, but that's justifiable considering that the last three decades of her life saw little in the way of noteworthy recordings.
Though there's not much in the way of rarities, the set also does contain half a dozen previously unreleased live tracks of merit; four songs from the hard-to-find album A Very Rare Evening, recorded live in Germany in April 1969; and a couple (a live cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and an alternate version of "Ain't Got No — I Got Life") that fit the rare tracks definition. This is a very good box set illustrating Simone's facility at jumping between and blending numerous genres, including soul, pop, rock, jazz, Broadway, classical, and even (on the previously unissued 1973 live performance "Nina") world fusion music of sorts with backing by sitar and kalimba. Essential for both beginners and connoisseurs.

Disc 1
1. Mood Indigo
2. I Loves You, Porgy
3. My Baby Just Cares For Me
4. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out
5. You Can Have Him (Live)
6. Wild Is The Wind (Live)
7. Trouble In Mind (Live)
8. When Malindy Sings/Swing Low Sweet Chariot (Live) [previously unreleased]
9. See-Line Woman
10. Pirate Jenny (Live)
11. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
12. I Put A Spell On You
13. Ne Me Quitte Pas
14. Feeling Good
15. Four Women
16. My Man's Gone Now
17. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
18. To Love Somebody
19. Sunday In Savannah (Live)

Disc 2
1. Mississippi Goddam (Live)
2. In The Morning
3. Ain't Got No-I Got Life [alternate version]
4. Do What You Gotta Do
5. Seems I'm Never Tired Loving You
6. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
7. The Times They Are A-Changin'
8. Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)
9. The Other Woman (Live)
10. I Think It's Going To Rain Today (Live)
11. Save Me (Live)
12. Revolution (Live)
13. To Be Young, Gifted And Black
14. Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair (Live)
15. Westwind (Live)
16. Who Knows Where The Time Goes (Live)
17. Suzanne (Live)

Disc 3
1. No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed (Live) [previously unreleased]
2. Just Like A Woman
3. Here Comes The Sun
4. Tanywey [previously unreleased]
5. Funkier Than A Mosquito's Tweeter (Live)
6. My Sweet Lord/Today Is A Killer (Live)
7. Let It Be Me (Live) [previously unreleased]
8. Poppies
9. Mr. Bojangles (Live)
10. I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl (Live)
11. Nina (Live) [previously unreleased]
12. Zungo (Live) [previously unreleased]
13. Baltimore Listen
14. A Single Woman

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