There are probably more compilations and collections on Nina Simone than any other artist… and with good reason. Few musicians – in any genre – recorded as prolifically as she did. She once famously said, “Music is a monkey on my back. I can’t get it off” and that monkey compelled her to perform and record whenever and wherever. Aside from “real” sessions, rehearsals, sound checks and actual performances were often committed to tape and that, coupled to the number of labels she worked for, explains the abundance of the lady’s recordings. Here, though, with this new double 25 tracker we have something just a bit different. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ comes from Ms Simone’s stay at RCA (1967-1973) and is made up of previously unreleased tracks, real rarities, and outtakes which include alternate versions of some of her better known recordings. As such it’s a key album in understanding this artist’s complexities and will appeal, rightly, to Simone collectors. However it will also serve as an excellent introduction for anyone who wants to come to grips with that huge back catalogue we alluded to up top. Here you hear Nina Simone in all her colours and complexions – tender love songs, jazzy romps, tortured personal introspections, feisty socio-political anthems, mournful blues, rousing spirituals and much more. And as ever, there are always surprises – like the Italian version of the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ (‘Cosi Ti Amo’), two very different versions of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ , a movingly, intense re-visit to Judy Collins’ ‘My Father’ and the full ten minute plus Martin Luther King tribute, ‘Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead)’. In those cuts alone you might just start to come to grips with the enigmas that made Nina Simone unique. To try to understand her totally there’s an awful lot of albums to get through.
(BB) 4 out of 5