Nina Simone has been a mythic and mysterious figure for decades, using the exactitude of her classical training to buttress her passionate inventiveness to create jazz and blues that were truly unique and often spectacular.
Now, more than a decade after her death, Simone's career is being reappraised and celebrated in a stunning new documentary, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" (currently on Netflix) and a new compilation, "Nina Revisited: A Tribute to Nina Simone" (RCA).
Lauryn Hill handles the bulk of the compilation -- six of the 16 songs, including stirring versions of "Feeling Good" and "I've Got Life." It's a powerful connection, considering Hill shares many of Simone's skills and struggles, and she attacks many of them head-on, especially her passionate "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair."
The more conceptual takes don't fare as well, especially Usher's slick version of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" and Alice Smith's spacey "I Put a Spell on You." They can barely stand against Simone's brilliant version of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free," which closes the album and shows how far ahead of her time she really was.
THE GRADE B+