9 Songs, 35 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Nina Simone released a flurry of albums throughout the mid-’60s—Pastel Blues was her second release in 1965, and she dropped no fewer than four new albums the following year. The pace was relentless, and in time it would take a serious toll on her mental and physical health. But this creatively fertile period saw Simone bringing her relentlessly original take to folk songs, jazz standards, and much more—cementing her status as an American original.

The short but intense album begins with the deceptively titled “Be My Husband.” The song starts out playfully but turns stranger with each verse, as the singer pleads with her husband—to the tune of a chain-gang chant—to be kinder to her. Equating marriage with forced labor is strong stuff, and the fact that the lyrics were penned by Simone’s abusive second husband, Andy Stroud, only deepens the resonance of this sparse, arresting song. The next track, Bessie Smith’s classic “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” shows what happens to a woman cast out on her own. These may not be the blues of Muddy Waters, but they damn sure are the blues.

The album concludes with two of the most powerful songs Simone ever recorded: a devastating rendering of the anti-lynching “Strange Fruit” and the absolutely frantic, 10-minute musical explosion that is her arrangement of “Sinnerman.” Simone would go on to release many other extraordinary works, but Pastel Blues deserves a special spot in the pantheon.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Nina Simone released a flurry of albums throughout the mid-’60s—Pastel Blues was her second release in 1965, and she dropped no fewer than four new albums the following year. The pace was relentless, and in time it would take a serious toll on her mental and physical health. But this creatively fertile period saw Simone bringing her relentlessly original take to folk songs, jazz standards, and much more—cementing her status as an American original.

The short but intense album begins with the deceptively titled “Be My Husband.” The song starts out playfully but turns stranger with each verse, as the singer pleads with her husband—to the tune of a chain-gang chant—to be kinder to her. Equating marriage with forced labor is strong stuff, and the fact that the lyrics were penned by Simone’s abusive second husband, Andy Stroud, only deepens the resonance of this sparse, arresting song. The next track, Bessie Smith’s classic “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” shows what happens to a woman cast out on her own. These may not be the blues of Muddy Waters, but they damn sure are the blues.

The album concludes with two of the most powerful songs Simone ever recorded: a devastating rendering of the anti-lynching “Strange Fruit” and the absolutely frantic, 10-minute musical explosion that is her arrangement of “Sinnerman.” Simone would go on to release many other extraordinary works, but Pastel Blues deserves a special spot in the pantheon.

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