Personnel: Nina Simone (vocals, piano).
Liner Note Author: David Nathan.
Recording information: 09/12/1959-??/??/1987.
Arrangers: Nina Simone; Stu Phillips; Hal Mooney; Stu Phillips & the Hollyridge Strings; Horace Ott.
"... [N]o one compilation could possibly tell the entire Simone story (since she recorded over 30 albums from 1959 to 1993)," admits David Nathan in his liner notes to Hip-O/Verve's hyperbolically titled Nina Simone best-of, The Definitive Collection. He might have added that another difficulty in assembling a Simone compilation is that she recorded for so many different labels, among them Bethlehem, Colpix, Philips, and RCA Victor (and that's just through the early '70s). This makes licensing a nightmare, of course. But reissue label Hip-O is known for its willingness to license extensively, and it has made a brave effort here. Universal Music, the major-label parent company, controls the Philips catalog as well as a 1987 live album, Let It Be Me, that Simone recorded for Verve. But Hip-O has paid to use five tracks originally released on Colpix from Warner, and another three originally released on RCA from BMG, which is a lot of licensing for a 20-track album. And the result, as Nathan claims, is "a great overview" of Simone's career, spanning the years 1959 to 1987 and including a number of her most popular and signature songs in their best-known versions. "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," "Trouble in Mind," "Gin House Blues," "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "I Put a Spell on You," "Do What You Gotta Do," and "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" were all chart singles of one sort or another, and "The Other Woman" and the Simone compositions "Mississippi Goddam" and "Four Women" are songs any listener would expect to hear when attending a Simone concert. The chief flaws of the collection concern omissions and substitutions. The one label not heard from is Bethlehem, and that means there are no selections from 1959's debut album Jazz as Played in an Exclusive Side Street Club. The compilers try to make up for this lack by including re-recordings of "I Loves You Porgy" (a Top 20 hit in the Bethlehem version), "Sugar in My Bowl," and "My Baby Just Cares for Me" (the last later a Top Five hit in Great Britain). Also missing are Simone's hit recordings of the Hair medley "Ain't Got No/I Got Life" and the Bee Gees standard "To Love Somebody." So, this is not the ideal one-disc survey of her career, and certainly not definitive. But it is much better than most. ~ William Ruhlmann