Review Summary: Pastel Blues captures Nina Simone at the peak of her career and it’s a brilliant album that combines jazz, the blues, classical and gospel music.
There are voices in the history of music that simply transcend. They break the boundaries of music itself and speak to the soul of the listener and hit them on a personal level. These voices don’t have to be technically perfect; they have to be sincere and special though. Nina Simone doesn’t possess your typical angelic female voice; she sounds sincerely troubled, heavy and her voice is deep and sometimes rough. Granted, it may take time to grow on you but give her time and this woman will win you over.
This album’s title is a bit misleading as Pastel Blues
is not all about the blues in terms of musical direction rather than the blues we all feel at some point. Pastel Blues
draws influences from soul, jazz, the blues, classical and gospel music. And if the classical influences surprise you, for Nina Simone they’re quite normal as she was a child prodigy and aspired to be a concert pianist; singing came later in her life as she played in small clubs and was asked to sing as well. For example the piano playing on “End of the Line” has definitely a classical flavor from the very beginning. In addition, the instrumentation on this album although not lush it’s meticulous; even on a track like “Tell Me More and More and Then Some” that follows a more subtle approach with regards to instrumentation, playing is of the highest quality. Of course, the highlight of every Nina Simone LP is her unique voice. On Pastel Blues
, Nina howls, moans, mourns and makes full use of her deep voice singing regarding issues such as racism and civil rights (“Strange Fruit”), love, the blues or even religion. Unfortunately, some tend to characterize the album’s first eight tracks as mere introduction to the last song. “Sinnerman”, originally an African American spiritual song, is one of Simone’s most well known tracks and for a good reason. Its deeply religious nature combined with Nina Simone’s excellent performance both lyrically and instrumentally make it the highlight of the album. Nevertheless, focus on this song only and you’ll miss one hell of an album.
Lastly, Pastel Blues
is not just a brilliant album for fans of vocal jazz but an opportunity to listen to a uniquely wonderful voice at its peak combined with some serious instrumentation. What’s even more incredible, is the fact that it was released on the same year as I Put a Spell on You
, another highlight of Simone’s career. At the same time, both albums are quite accessible for fans of numerous genres and a great opportunity to appreciate on the best female vocalists of the 20th century.