A good and sensible single-disc reissue of two early Simone albums, both recorded in the late '50s and both among her more jazz-oriented outings. The Amazing Nina Simone, a 1959 studio LP, is rather on the pop and standards side of things, with cuts like "It Might as Well Be Spring," "Willow Weep for Me," and "Stompin' at the Savoy," but that's not to its detriment. The mood is varied, with some sad orchestral arrangements that would have made these suitable for theater or movie productions; upbeat gospel on "Children Go Where I Send You" and "Chilly Winds Don't Blow"; and quite respectable upbeat jazz on "You've Been Gone Too Long." The live At Town Hall, recorded in September 1959, is unorchestrated and more spontaneous, and puts the accent more on Simone's fine, even, stirring piano playing. Here again, Simone evidences her determination to have the most eclectic repertoire of anyone around with standards like "Exactly Like You," traditional folk tunes such as "Black Is the Color of My True Love," and Billie Holiday's "Fine and Mellow." Most interesting, perhaps, are the several forceful instrumentals in which Simone really gets down, hammering the notes or trilling delicately as the mood takes her, quite audibly grunt-humming along as she gets absorbed in the music. The production on both of these LPs is rather uneven and undernourished from a technical standpoint, with odd echoes and balances throughout. If anything, though, that dated feel embellishes the unusual moods which Simone excelled at creating.
The Amazing Nina Simone/Nina Simone at Town Hall Review
by Richie Unterberger