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Celebrating Nina Simone: Meshell Ndegeocello’s tribute captivates World Cafe Live at the Queen

Meshell Ndegeocello | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com
Meshell Ndegeocello | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

Meshell Ndegeocello wants to share her love for the music of Nina Simone with anyone inclined to listen. Those in attendance at World Café Live at The Queen in Wilmington on Wednesday night experienced Ndegeocello’s passion for Simone in a wonderfully brisk 90-minute set.

Ndegeocello’s rich soulful voice and booming bass propelled the nearly sold-out crowd through the Simone songbook that Ndegeocello performed on the 2012 release Pour une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone. From the highs of “Feeling Good” to the ballad standard of “Black is the Color of My True Loves Hair,” Ndgeocello captured the essence of Simone in one moment and transformed it into something fresh and new the next.

(Read More - Sovereign Souls: Meshell Ndegeocello on interpreting and re-experiencing Nina Simone)

Before a fully seated Queen crowd that was in rapt silence, Ndegeocello and her band of guitarist Chris Bruce, keyboardist Jebin Bruni, and new drummer Abraham Rounds breathed life into Simone and her interpretations. Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” is loved best by Ndegeocello in Simone’s glorious take on it; its folk origins were barely visible in the jazzed up brilliance of Ndegeocello and Simone. Beyond Simone, Ndegeocello transformed The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” to a place beyond the imaginations of the Liverpool lads; gone was its trippiness in exchange for bold percussion and bass and guitar lines that floated one’s mind downstream.

In a show of discovery and the sublime, two moments stood out more than any other. The main set closer of “Four Women” was a knockout; Simone’s stories resonate still today and Ndegeocello brought beauty and devastation to the song with her voice and her bass. The final song of the night, Ndegeocello’s own “Oysters” from her 2011 album Weather, was just her voice and keys. Her storytelling and visuals, when matched with that of Simone and all of the songwriters beloved by Simone and Ndegeocello herself, were the perfect complement and ending to a night of musical reimagination and transcendence.

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Sovereign Souls: Meshell Ndegeocello on interpreting and re-experiencing Nina Simone

Photo via facebook.com/officialmeshell
Photo via facebook.com/officialmeshell

In retrospect, it seems obvious to link Meshell Ndegeocello with Nina Simone: both are equally adept singers and instrumentalists who straddle the jazz and R&B worlds; both are unafraid to engage with political realities; both are strengthened artistically if undermined commercially by their fierce independence. Perhaps it’s that very independence, that sense that both Simone and Ndegeocello are iconoclastic islands unto themselves, that camouflaged any linkage between the two before the release of Pour Une Âme Souveraine (For a Soverign Soul): A Dedication to Nina Simone, Ndegeocello’s 2012 tribute album.

Ndegeocello will bring her homage to Simone to World Café Live at the Queen on Wednesday, backed by guitarist Chris Bruce, keyboardist Jebin Bruni, and drummer Abraham Rounds. While she’ll also perform a few songs from her own catalogue, most of the show will focus on material written by or associated with Simone.

“I’m trying to aid people in re-experiencing her music,” Ndegeocello says. “I want people to remember the amazing music and songwriting she was capable of.”

Pour Une Âme Souveraine certainly shines a spotlight on Simone’s artistry, but with Ndegeocello’s inimitable, uncategorizable approach intact. There’s never any attempt to recreate Simone’s sound; each song is given a distinctly modern reimagining, shot through with soul, funk, jazz, gospel, and rock touches. “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” opens, driven by Bruce’s knife-edged guitar riff and Ndegeocello’s hushed, repentant vocal. It continues with a country-gospel take on Simone’s take on Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” a funk rave-up “House of the Rising Sun,” a skulking “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” a dark, haunting “Four Women.”

A number of guests join in the celebration: Toshi Reagon on the bright, twangy “Real Real,” Sinead O’Connor on the swaying, hypnotic “Don’t Take All Night,” Lizz Wright on the deeply-felt blues of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and Cody ChestnuTT revisiting “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin.

The latter (written with Weldon Irvine) reflects Simone’s Civil Rights-era boldness, a determination to display her anger and frustration at a time when such outspokenness carried real consequences. “I didn’t live during the Civil Rights era,” Ndegeocello says, “so just to think that this was possible, that there was an artist out there participating in that way, is awe-inspiring. ‘Mississippi Goddamn’ should be in the same realm as certain Pete Seeger songs. It’s music to remind people of what was going on during that time.”

Despite the strong parallels between them, Ndegeocello didn’t discover Simone’s music until she was in her early 20s, shortly after she moved to New York City. Continue reading →

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Watch The Burgeoning take on Last Dinosaurs’ “Honolulu” (playing World Cafe Live at The Queen 2/15)

Photo via www.facebook.com/TheBurgeoning
Photo via www.facebook.com/TheBurgeoning

Local indie-rock band The Burgeoning are always up for an adventure. This time they’re headed for “Honolulu”, a track by Australia’s Last Dinosaurs. Vocalist Logan Thierjung’s uses his vocal range to add even more depth to the playful tune which originally features harmonies on the verses. Watch the cover and the original below and get tickets to The Burgeoning’s show at World Cafe Live Wilmington here.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Their/They’re/There at First Unitarian Church, York Street Hustle at World Cafe Live, John the Conqueror at Boot and Saddle and more

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

Chicago indie rockers Their/They’re/There will play at First Unitarian Church tonight. The band is a collaboration of Evan Weiss from Into It. Over It., Mike Kinsella from Cap’n Jazz and Matthew Frank from Loose Lips Sink Ships, and its tour comes in support of the band’s new EP Analog Weekend. Check out their new video for “New Blood” below, read more in Beth Ann Downey’s interview and get tickets here.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Drake at Wells Fargo Center and Ben Taylor at World Cafe Live at The Queen

Drake | courtesy of the artist

Drake will take to the Wells Fargo Center stage tonight to atone for the last-minute cancellation of October’s show. He recently earned a Best Rap Album Grammy nomination for his platinum-selling third album Nothing Was the Same and is featured on Beyonce’s newly (and unexpectedly) released self-titled LP. The Toronto native told VIBE that he plans to release a few new songs (which he’s been previewing lately on tour) before the new year. Watch Drake on his “Worst Behavior” below and get tickets here.

Drake ~ Worst Behavior from OctobersVeryOwn on Vimeo.

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Chasing fate with Jacopo de Nicola and his local Italian folk trio The Late Saints

Photo by Daniel Mezick
Photo by Daniel Mezick

You might say the emergence of local trio The Late Saints was a matter of fate.

Jacopo de Nicola, guitarist, kazoo player and leader of the self-styled “Italian gypsy folk” band was born in Italy and originally trained as a bass player. While still in Italy, he performed in a variety of bands ranging from a goth act to a twelve-piece traditional Italian orchestra and a techno-jazz trio. In 2003 he started writing original music, and it soon became his main musical focus.

Around this time, he made a fortuitous 500-mile hike along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James. a pilgrimage route in Western Europe. The path came to be in medieval times after the remains of St. James – or what was believed to be his remains – were discovered and a cathedral was eventually erected in Galicia, Spain.

“I started at the modern-accepted starting point of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the mountains of France,” Nicola says. “I started by myself but I met lots of people along the way. I learned that walking the Camino is like walking through life. You meet all sorts of people and situations. So it’s very important to stick to your true self and not get swayed. Because some people can really take you off your path. So it has physical and spiritual consequence, because if you walk too fast or too slow, or don’t respect yourself and do things that can harm you, you can really suffer because it’s such an intense experience.”

Along this walk Nicola met his wife, who was in France specifically for the trek. He says that she was on the Camino with a friend and they kept intersecting paths.

“When you start, it’s almost like you’re predetermined to see certain people,” he explains while picking at a small plate of orzo salad in an East Passyunk café. “Somehow you keep seeing the same people. But there are also people that start at the same time as you and you’ll never see them again. It almost incredible; kind of serendipitous.”

Nicola feels that way about playing with his current lineup, which formed earlier this year. He also feels that way about using his trademark instrument, the kazoo.

While recording an album he never released, he was in the studio and originally imagined a trumpet on some of the songs. He didn’t have the money to hire a session musician and decided he’d play it himself, but the studio did not have a trumpet. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Macy Gray at World Cafe Live, Delco Pacers at MilkBoy, Astronauts Really Fly at The Blockley, and more

Photo by Jan Prunk
Photo by Jan Prunk

Ohio bred R&B artist and actress Macy Gray brings her unique vocals and whimsical musical sense to World Cafe Live tonight for the 14th anniversary of her 1999 release On How Life Is. Gray has released six album in the years since then, most recently appearing in 2012 with a full-album cover of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. Find tickets for tonight’s show here. Watch her Jay Leno performance of Stevie’s “Tuesday Heartbreak.”

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