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Broadway-Blues-Ballads
Original discography
 
 

Verve 518 190-2 (1993 US)

There's a lot more Broadway, and a lot more ballads, than blues on this, which ranks as one of her weaker mid-'60s albums. Almost half the record features Broadway tunes on the order of Cole Porter and Rodgers-Hammerstein; most of the rest was composed by Bennie Benjamin, author of her first-rate "Don't Let Me Misunderstood," which the Animals covered for a hit shortly afterwards (and which leads off this record). The other Benjamin tunes are modified "uptown" soul with string arrangements and backup vocals in the vein of "Don't Let Me Misunderstood," but aren't in the same league, though "How Can I?" is an engaging cha-cha. Besides "Don't Let Me Misunderstood," the album's most notable for the great "SeeLine Woman," a percolating call-and-response number that ranks as one of her best tracks. The CD reissue includes the strange bonus cut "The Monster," an odd attempt at a soul novelty tune.
-Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
Tracks sorted by number (sort by session or by title)
 1 [2:45] Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood   Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell, Sol Marcus

 2 [3:04] Night Song   Arthur K. Adams, Charles Strouse

 3 [2:20] The Laziest Gal in Town   Cole Porter

 4 [2:43] Something Wonderful   Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers

 5 [2:51] Don't Take All Night   Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus

 6 [4:15] Nobody   Alex Rogers, Bert Williams

 7 [2:54] I Am Blessed   Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus

 8 [2:34] Of This I'm Sure   Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus

 9 [2:36] See-Line Woman   George Bass

 10 [2:58] Our Love (Will See Us Through)   Bennie Benjamin

 11 [2:03] How Can I?   Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus

 12 [3:04] The Last Rose of Summer   Thomas Moore, Nina Simone

 13 [2:44] A Monster   Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus bonus track

Liner Notes by James Gavin, June 1993
By the first time this album was released in 1964, Nina Simone's musical focus was changing as quickly as the times. In her prior nine LPs she had evolved a style that treated everything from standards to gritty blues as moody, jazz informed arias. She appeared cool, but below the surface those song seemed to evoke in her something bitter and unsetting.
As the civil rights struggle weighted upon Simone more and more heavily, the mahogany voice heard on her early albums began to show a few cracks, and her shows grew visibly harsher and angrier. Protest songs started to dominate her repertoire, as they would for the rest of the decade.
Most of the Broadway Blues Ballads is an attempt to take Simone beyond her cult status by presenting her as a mainstream pop singer. It gathers a half-dozen pop-soul singles, a trio of show tunes, and even the traditional art song, "The Last Rose of Summer". (Contrary to the album's title, no real blues are included.) This set reflects the piecemeal quality of most of her Philips LPs, which sounded like periodic releases of whatever material had accumulated in the vaults. But no Nina Simone album is without interest, and this one bears the High Priestess of Soul's customary attitude and authority.
The most celebrated track is "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" written by Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus and Gloria Caldwell. An anguished plea for sympathy at at a time of harsh action, the song is an obvious echo of the civil rights movement. The volatile singer found more than a touch of autobiography in its words: "Don't you know no one alive can always be an angel?/When everything goes wrong you see some bad." Although the song became a Simone trademark, it failed to hit the charts until the Animals covered it in early 1965. Simone went on the record other pop tunes by Benjamin and Marcus, including "Don't Take All Night", "I Am Blessed", "Of This I'm Sure", "Our Love (Will See Us Through), "How Can I?", and "A Monster". All of them feature the same thin, fluttering strings, plodding beat, and strident female choir used less gratingly on "Misunderstood", but Simone manages to cut through the sentimentality and give them some bite. Only "Don't Take All Nigh" breaks away from the ordinary, as Simone turns it into a playful, sexy reprimand.
The Broadway section id far more rewarding. The standout is "Night Song" form Golden Boy, a Charles Strouse-Lee Adams musical from 1964 that starred Sammy Davis, Jr. An urban lullaby about a summer night on the city streets, it tells of feeling alone in a big, busting city, wondering how to fit in. The bridge - "Where do you go when you feel your brain is on fire/When you don't even know what it is you desire?" seems to strike a chord in Simone, who bursts through her pensive mood with a moment of spine-tingling passion.
Cole Porter's "The Laziest Gal in Town", which Marlene Dietrich introduced in Hitchcock's 1950 film Stage Fright, find Simone in an unusually lighthearted mood; no lascivious Porte nuance escape her. "Something Wonderful", that ludicrous tale of female martyrdom from The King and I, gains a measure of dignity in her hands, as does "Nobody", which is loosely classified as one of the album's blues. In fact it is a turn-of-the-century hard-luck story, an early example of race consciousness replete with double entendre, made famous in vaudeville by comic Bert Williams. Simone first sang it as a piano bar performer in the Fifties, and this version recalls the more introspective style of these early days.
But the album's high point is "See-Line Woman", a throbbing tale about a top-dollar whore with a touch of mermaid in her. The number is still a showstopper in her concerts. With a background of flute, percussion, hand clapping, and an incantation of "see-line" from her band she steps away from the piano and struts the stage, growling, moaning, and commanding the audience to chant along. More than any other track on the CD, the pice of vintage Simone bears out the words of Langston Hughes, who wrote the original liner note. "She has a flair, but no air. She has class, but does not wear it on her shoulders. Only chips. She is unique. You either like her or you don't. If you don't, you won't. If you do - wheee-ouuu-eu! You do!"
Whatever the song, there is no mistaking the voice or the temperament. Broadway Blues Ballads proves that a singer who usually meant business could also sing for the fun of it - and still siphon the truth out of every phrase.