Few artists are as tough to pin down as Meshell Ndegeocello. Throughout her career she has continually thwarted attempts by industry forces who would attempt to define her. She's a master bassist and a poignant, restless songwriter. Pour Une Âme Souveraine is a collection of songs associated with or written by Nina Simone. It stands in sharp contrast to 2011's Weather, a stripped-down meditation on love's difficulties, disappointments, and endurance. Pour Une Âme Souveraine, was co-produced by Ndegeocello and guitarist Chris Bruce. They, along with Deantoni Parks on drums and Jebin Bruni on keyboards, account for most of the music-making here. Ndegeocello's voice and bass are central, though she enlists a handful of guest vocalists who add a mercurial dimension to these sometimes startling proceedings. Ndegeocello doesn't try to re-create Simone's performances or merely pay tribute. Instead, she invokes her pioneering spirit. Simone tried to present her own totality and complexity in each song she wrote and performed. Ndegeocello adds layers of not only complexity, but also ambiguity to her own identity as she celebrates her subject's pioneering spirit. Highlights include a startling read of Simone's stellar "Feelin' Good." Ndegeocello gets at the root of what is inferred in the tune, not declared in its title: ambivalence. Her interpretation reveals the title as an unanswered question. Her version of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" contains double-timed drums, slippery electric guitars, a pronounced bassline, and sprightly piano; it's a love song whose perspective implies direct experience with the subject, instead of an homage to the object of its lyrics. Toshi Reagon's appearance on "House of the Rising Sun" is drenched in soul atop driving, funky rock & roll. While the waltz time of "Don't Take All Night" remains the same, Sinéad O'Connor guides it as a sad country tune instead of a souled-out blues. Lizz Wright's voice in front of "Nobody's Fault But Mine" is a moaning, gospel blues."See Line Woman" is a skittering, syncopated jazz with Ndegeocello's funky bassline contrasted with a swooping flute. Tracy Wannomae's vocal keeps the brooding quality of the original, but it's inside a spooky jazz-funk number with skittering tom-toms and snares. Chesnutt's "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," written for Simone by Weldon Irvine, is lovely yet curious because it's a cut that Ndegeocello may have easily -- and convincingly -- claimed for herself. She does own "Black Is the Color Of My True Love's Hair," with its broken beat drums, reverbed electric guitar, and sensual, spooky keyboards. Pour Une Âme Souveraine is the best kind of dedication to Simone: it invokes her inspiration rather than attempting to re-create her character.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek