To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story
This handsome and well-curated three-CD box set spans Nina Simone’s turbulent career from her 1958 debut, when she was fresh out of New York’s Juilliard music school, to the final studio album made in 1993 before her retreat to the South of France. The 50-plus numbers collected here are a reminder of what a contradictory, complex and complete artist Simone was: an impassioned protest singer before the folkies got organised, a sultry seductress and a petulant diva. She was uncompromising, yet became a huge commercial success. Her repertoire covered the waterfront, from jazz to chansons, gospel to reggae, folk to calypso, with standard songs transformed by the most unexpected, daring arrangements. In performance she was a fearsome, liberated improviser who challenged her audiences. And listening to these sides today, 10 years on from her death, it’s amazing just how alive Nina Simone’s music still is.