Ndegeocello channels Nina Simone

Meshell Ndegeocello sang her versions of Simone hits at World Cafe Live on Monday.
Meshell Ndegeocello sang her versions of Simone hits at World Cafe Live on Monday.
Posted: October 17, 2012

The late Nina Simone was renowned for eclecticism and eccentricity, for a ravished and ravishing voice that made each lyrical phrase raw with emotion, for her genre-jumping musicality and her dedication to freedom at any cost.

You could take out the phrase "late Nina Simone," replace it with "Meshell Ndegeocello," and you'd have the 44-year-old singer, bassist, and composer's capsule biography at your fingertips.

It's no surprise then that Ndegeocello chose to record Pour Une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone and bring her own deconstructed vision of songs familiar to the Simone canon - those she famously covered, those she penned - to a waiting throng at World Cafe Live on Monday night.

Bathed in low lights and accompanied by three players keen on anticipating her every tic, Ndegeocello was like a character actress with a great script to chew on. A vibrato heavy guitar, a low bassy rhythm, and a haunted house organ gave Ndegeocello the perfect atmospheric quietude through which to haunt "Be My Husband." Her coo was like a ghost's whisper as she sang lyrics written by Simone's one-time spouse with phrases like "Outside of you there is no place to go" and "please don't treat me so doggone mean" hanging like icicles in midair. To a military beat and a bluesy twang, the Beatles' "Revolution" got doubly deconstructed as Ndegeocello turned Simone's jazzy activist vibe into something chillingly psychedelic and dub-effected. The usually pensive "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" was equally unnerving as Ndegeocello used an eerie deadpan voice throughout the gothic romantic melodrama.

During her chatty interludes, Ndegeocello not only made sure to talk up Simone's own cuts with material such as a plucky acoustic guitar "Real Real," the bassist/singer also discussed Simone's time living in Philadelphia. She joked about how audiences knew Simone's vampy "Feelin' Good" from Michael Buble or Norah Jones before adding her trembling voice to the arrangement's woozy atmosphere for a rendition that was decidedly un-feel good. And when it came time for Ndegeocello to tackle her favorite Simone song, "Four Women," the singer robbed and thrilled the audience by stripping the song of its dramatic defiant finale.

With that, Ndegeocello showed her own sense of haughty defiance yet immense respect toward Nina Simone.

Brilliant.

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