ZACH LITCHMAN — Nina Simone’s classic 1965 album I Put a Spell on You might have been considered one of her most pop-oriented albums, but it’s certainly one of her most finely crafted. Not only is it one of her most consistent works, but the songs have a very direct feel to them and show several sides of Nina’s character. She sings to past lovers, fans, and friends alike. It’s an album full of surprises that deliver every time you return to them, and has arguably the highest replay value of any of her releases. While her more challenging and dark albums have a quality to them that is classic Nina, I Put A Spell On You shows Nina flexing all her vocal muscles and really belting. Her lyrics are urgent, from the opening title track, to the mega hit cover “Feeling Good.” It balances pop immediacy with dark and hurting lyrics of heartbreak and frustration. It is perhaps the first album to ever do this with such success, and at its 33 minute run time, it is a very concise and to-the-point record. Nina wastes no time calling out those who have wronged her, but refuses to slip into darkness and instead keeps her head up on tracks like “Tomorrow Is My Turn,” “You’ve Got To Learn,” and the slightly comical “Marriage Is For Old Folks.” Nina’s tone throughout the album takes on many shapes. She wails on some tracks, and sings sweetly in a pure tone on jazz ballads like “One September Day,” Beautiful Land,” and “July Tree.” These songs carry much emotional weight, but they do so in a way that is all too relatable and don’t seem like things that most Western musicians of her time couldn’t feel connected with. Then there’s lush and laid back jazz tropes like “Blues On Purpose” and the indulgent “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” which show her ability to create an album experience that flows and features some of the more uniquely original moments in Simone’s long and storied discography. All these tracks come together for a beautifully flowing and ever-sorrowful Nina album that is still just as relevant and immediate in 2017 as it was in 1965.
Favorite Tracks: “Feeling Good”, “I Put A Spell On You”, “You’ve Got To Learn”, “Tomorrow Is My Turn”, “Blues On Purpose”