Nina Simone ‘The Colpix Singles’ 2CD/LP (Stateside) 5/5 for CD, 4/5 for LP

While many fans of Nina Simone have focussed on her late 1950’s album, ‘My baby just cares for me’, for which she never received any royalties and has been endlessly plundered, a more accurate portrayal of the young singer still searching for her songwriting talents comes in the shape of this delightful 2 CD package (available as a single LP with selected tracks from the CD anthology) that captures her singles for the Colpix label. They date chronologically between 1959 and 1963, after which she moved over to a major label in Verve and enjoyed her greatest commercial success as well as blossoming into a songwriter of great promise.

Rewind to 1959, however, and Simone was still under the influence of classical piano having studied this subject at the Julliard School of Music in New York, before competing for further study only to be confronted by racial bigotry. Instead, she signed for Colpix, recording a flurry of 45s in addition to recording live performances, especially the one at Carnegie Hall, that came out on Stateside in the early noughties. Of the singles, eternal favourites are to be found in, ‘Blues is the colour of my true love’s hair’, and in folk-blues interpretations such as ‘Gin house blues’ and ‘Cotton eyed Joe’. Billie Holiday was not long departed from this world when Nina recorded these side and a fitting and uplifting tribute to Holiday comes in ‘Fine and mellow’. Other composers/musicians who caught the young woman’s ears were tow sets of brothers, the Gershwin’s.

While the singer-songwriter in Nina Simone had not yet fully matured, four lovingly crafted songs are offered here and they include the mini masterpiece that she would sing throughout her lengthy career, ‘I want a little sugar in my bowl’, an adaptation of ‘Little Luisa Jane’, a co-written ‘Blackbird’ (not to be confused with the Beatles Paul McCartney composition) and a short version of ‘Under the lowest’.

Tim Stenhouse