Friday, 16 March 2018

Nina Simone "Pastel Blues" (1965)

It's been years since I first got my hands on this record. As with some of the great, appraised music from past generations it can take some time to get into. Walking home from a Kendrick Lamar gig in an ecstatic mood another song from Pastel Blues came on and I was captivated, engulfed. In an instant it all clicked and since then Ive binged on this fantastic record from Nina Simone. She has a fascinating voice, ranging from softly effeminate to a shade manly with a powerful, navel tone that's drenched in a strange sadness. A strong vibrato resonates when she holds a note, somehow able to squeeze the sound to a point almost inhuman, but not too far gone. Its wonderful and not saturated as she awaits the inspired moments to let it flow.

With jazzy pianos, folksy acoustic guitars and soft percussion the instrumentals play a resounding roll in tipping the mood as the temperate backings swing back and forth, track to track, between bluesy, worrisome sorrows and self-empowered songs of resolution and poetic wisdom. Even in these uplifting numbers something in Nina's voice feels as if it would easily slip into a sadder setting. Even when the words don't quite match there is somehow a lingering sorrow as if she sings to escape something haunting her. Given how little I know beyond the music of this record, her life, or who she is it may simply be the way I hear things but I can't shake the sadness.

The record has all the roots of black music showing themselves, Jazz and Blues dominate the spectrum but shades of Soul, Gospel and R&B creek into the fold and most noticeably the opening tracks "Be My Husband" has the dominating clank of a chain gang song, the singing between often tailing of with soulful vocal afflictions. Its a rather short run of songs bolstered by the ten minute Sinnerman which stands out for its, in comparison, ambitious song structure which grows and broods in a healthy amount of repetition. The best moments for me are the sadder songs, that's when her voice illuminates and becomes truly special.

Favorite Tracks: Be My Husband, End Of The Line, Tell Me More And Then Some, Strange Fruit
Rating: 8/10