As both a tribute to a legendary artist, and an album in its own right, Nina Revisited...A Tribute To Nina Simone falls flat. The record’s obvious goal is to update the sound of one of the 20th Century’s heaviest sonic hitters, and though those behind the record clearly had the admirable goal of introducing Nina Simone to a whole new generation in mind, by adding a host of surface level gimmicks to the songs something essential within the music has been lost. Indeed, part of Simone’s greatness was her timelessness – there is nothing in her music that feels dated , even today – so it is ironic that by trying to update Simone with their eyes on the young and their finger on the pulse, those behind Nina Revisited (including Common, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige) make themselves look more than a tad out of touch.
The track listing serves as a crash course in Simone’s greatest hits, and indeed even if nothing else, the selection of songs has clearly been given a lot of thought. There are versions of Ne Me Quitte Pas; Feelin Good; Wild Is The Wind…In short, all of the songs that catapulted Simone into the stratosphere. But though the decision of which songs to cover has been expertly handled, how to cover them has not, and the gimmicky twists each of the numbers have been given are almost cringeworthy. Ne Me Quitte Pas’ rich melodic instrumentation has been replaced with loops and groaning electro work, presumably to emulate a hip hop backing track. Though tracing the line between Simone and rap could theoretically be an interesting and intelligent decision, here it feels cheesy and half baked.
A seven and a half minute version of I’ve Got Life abandons the original almost entirely, trading in most of the song’s lyrics for an entirely new set of rapped phrases. Though the ambition on display should be lauded, the execution leaves much to desire, and ultimately the track feels stale. The same can be said for Alice Smith’s interesting but ultimately lifeless version of I Put A Spell On You. Smith tries to trade in the original’s ballsy brilliance for a much subtler kind of power, but the track suffers from its slow pace.
All of the musicians involved with the project clearly have a great love for the source material – even the instrumental version of African Mailman, one of the album’s worst tracks, has been performed with energy – and indeed Simone’s own daughter, Lisa, appears on the record. But all the effort put in only manages to make the album feel more disappointing. This could have been a brilliant and timely testament to a world class talent. Instead, it’s a sloppy, ill judged misfire.