Silk & Soul

Silk & Soul

Nina Simone never had the chart success to match her overall impact as an artist; as a result, many of her albums are an inscrutable blend of songs her label believed could perform commercially, and Simone’s more indulgent—but often rewarding—digressions. That’s the case with 1967’s Silk & Soul, which incorporates the kind of funk sounds and pop gloss that were fashionable at the time, but keep Simone’s musical grounding intact. Recorded with much of the same ensemble that had worked on the recent Nina Simone Sings the Blues—but with the addition of a horn section and broader orchestration—Silk & Soul finds the singer working with a typically eclectic mix of songs. “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” wasn’t a hit upon release, but it’s become a classic of the Civil Rights Movement, channeling gospel’s ebullience with a potent message penned by pianist Billy Taylor. Her sultry “Turn Me On,” meanwhile, would set the bar for Norah Jones’ version over three decades later. Elsewhere on Silk & Soul, there are outré versions of contemporary pop, including a haunting, overdubbed version of The Association’s “Cherish,” as well as Simone’s restrained, quivering rendition of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “The Look of Love.” Perhaps the most surprising inclusions are two funky tracks with an uncharacteristically good-time bent: “It Be’s That Way Sometime”—written by Simone’s brother, Sam Waymon—and “Some Say.” That party music gets juxtaposed, in typical fashion, with some of Simone’s most gutting work, including “The Turning Point,” a song about a child learning what racism is, and “Love O’ Love,” which features just Simone and her piano, and which takes on the form of a timeless secular spiritual.

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