Tuesday, June 02, 2020

CD Review: Nina Simone - Fodder On My Wings

Nina Simone
Fodder On My Wings

Only Nina Simone could take a song as maudlin as Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" and rework it to explain her troubled relationship with her recently deceased father. Accompanying herself on piano, Simone's new lyrics spin a confession that arguably ranks with John Lennon's "Mother," laying everything out candidly. The difference is Lennon faded out of his song screaming, never finding peace. Simone, on the other hand, reaches closure 

Early verses confess how she "despised this man" who she is "glad to say, he's dying at last," after years of resentment. With classical flourishes dropped in between verses, a synthesizer swell appears midway through, acting almost like a cinematic cue for redemption. In the final verse, she admits that "I loved him them and I loved him now," and how his passing broke her. Parental bonds can do that to a person, no matter how fractured the relationship.

The centerpiece on the reissue of an obscure Simone album from 1982, "Alone Again (Naturally)" didn't even appear on Fodder On My Wings when it was initially released in France. It and two other tracks were added to a few reissues in the late '80s and early '00s, and they are here on Verve's new edition. The album was made while Simone was living in Paris, her mental illness getting worse while, at the same time, she was feeling artistically inspired by African musicians she met in her new country. 

This duality can be felt throughout the album. Opening track "I Sing Just to Know That I'm Alive" sounds empowering, especially with the African vibe of the band. In "Liberian Calypso" she sings about going to a club and dancing to American music, all done over the melody of Louis Jordan's "Run Joe," which is clear when the shout chorus comes around.

But her darkness is always at arm's length. "I Sing" is followed by "Fodder In Her Wings," from which the album's variation on the title comes. A song that Simone recorded several times, it puts all of her despair front and center, as beautiful as it is melancholic. "I Was Just A Stupid Dog To Them" has an Afro-Latin groove, complete with slapped bass, but the message is clear her too. It even has some Cecil Taylor-esque fills underneath for extra emphasis.

But even if she wasn't in the best frame of mind, Simone still sounds like she's enjoying herself. The brief "Color Is a Beautiful Thing" reveals a humorous streak. "Vous Etes Seuls, Mais Je Désire Etre Avec Vous" could have been a bit shorter, but the chorus of voices offers some healing, as does "Le Peuple En Suisse," which is bolstered by some organ swells and trumpet blasts. "Heaven Belongs To You," which she introduces as an African song her father sang to her, is another repetitive song with an infectious groove. 

Throughout the album, Simone's voice often sounds rough, especially on the sustained notes, but the rawness does nothing to impact her delivery. In fact, it helps. Throughout her life, Simone was an artist with many layers and Fodder On My Wings adds to that fascinating complexity.

No comments: