Nina Simone had one of the most distinctive voices in recorded music history. Her skill and control over her vocal delivery showed no bounds and no truer is that statement than when listening to her opus I Put A Spell On You. There is not a bad song to be heard and it really is a case of discussing which of the 12 songs is better than all the others.
Adding to this musical brilliance is the fact that I've been enjoying I Put A Spell On You at 24/96kHz on the High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray format. To call this pressing immaculate would be a gross understatement. I have listened to the counterpart on Apple Music and TIDAL Hi-Fi and while the recording is largely transparent on those services, they lack a level of smoothness and relaxation when compared directly against the HFPA release. Yes, I've also listened to the MQA edition and while nice, it’s still too harsh for my liking. The HFPA release has incredible detail, minus the harshness found via other formats, and sounds extraordinary via both my main stereo set-up and headphones. For those of you who are interested, for this HFPA release, I prefer to listen to the album in the PCM format, rather than my preferred DTS-HD Master Audio format. I simply find that the original recording doesn’t need the additional low end that the DTS-HD Master Audio mix provides.
The HFPA format releases are sourced from the master tapes and this is one release where the tape qualities have been maintained throughout the digitisation process. While a little tape noise and analogue playback artefacts may deter digital purists, I love it as it takes me into the studio. If I close my eyes and focus only on the music, I'm experiencing my own personal concert with Simone and it is an experience that is astonishingly satisfying. That all said, the core performance does translate to the other formats, but the HFPA edition takes the recording to another level, especially if you have stereo equipment capable of taking advantage of high-resolution audio. For those that don't, or aren't interested in going to these lengths, may I suggest the Apple Music edition that is Mastered for iTunes. As I have listened to the album on many of the available formats, that is the one closest to the HFPA sound signature in my opinion.
I Put A Spell On You is as much a Nina Simone song as it is a Screamin' Jay Hawkins’ classic. However, while Hawkins may have recorded the original, I doubt there would be many who would proclaim his rendition as being superior to Simone's. I also love the Creedence Clearwater Revival interpretation as it takes cues from both Hawkins and Simone and if you want to take the song up a notch, on the metal-infused dial, you could always listen to Marilyn Manson's rendition, as featured on Smells Like Children. Regardless of how you wish to appreciate this song, a plethora of musicians have covered the song well, but I always return to Simone's rendition as being the definitive recording of the song. She made it her own and I doubt anyone will ever be able to top it.
Tomorrow Is My Turn is a lovely song. You really get a sense of the vocal control Simone has, especially on the fast, yet clear and soft, lyrical aspects of the song. By the way, is it just me or does this song sound as though it was taken straight out of a 007 James Bond flick?
Ne Me Quitte Pas is spectacular!
Marriage Is For Old Folks is witty and incredibly entertaining to listen to. Seriously, if you don't have a smile on your face when listening to this song, you're taking life too seriously. It’s a fantastic tune and perfectly suited to Simone, especially the doo, doo, dooo, de-doo lyrics.
July Tree is a lovely song that while not a classic, is a beautiful addition to the album.
Gimme Some picks up the pace with an addictive rhythm that will have you head-bopping and toe-tapping from the very first note. Plus, that Little Richard inspired vocal growl, that Simone includes, is incredible.
Feeling Good is astonishingly good! Again, Simone's rendition is arguably the greatest to have ever been recorded, but as I've mentioned before, George Michael did perform it beautifully.
One September Day is a thoroughly relaxing track that again shows the control Simone had over her vocal delivery. Remember, this was recorded in 1965, long before Auto-Tuning vocals was a thing. Yes, dear reader, this is what a truly talented vocalist sounds like.
Blues On Purpose is a fun little song with a solid mix of blues and jazz that will appeal to just about any music lover. While Blues On Purpose is an instrumental track, Simone plays the piano sufficiently, as she did throughout the entire album.
Beautiful Land is an interesting song that I find to be rather compelling, yet I'm unsure if I actually like the song or not. It isn't bad, it's just a little left of the centre.
You've Got To Learn is a beautiful tune.
Take Care Of Business is a superb song to close the album on and ensures I’ll stay within Simone's back catalogue while longing to play I Put A Spell On You again.
I Put A Spell On You is pure perfection from start to finish. If there were a criticism to be made, it would be that the album is too short, with a runtime of approximately 34 minutes. However, that weakness is also its greatest strength for the filler tracks that are known and loathed are nowhere to be seen. It plays like a well-curated greatest hits compilation would.
Nina Simone was one of the greats, and will always be one of them, for the musical skill she possessed is a rare occurrence that even the greatest modern day vocalists can only aspire to. There is little doubt she has put a spell on me, I hope you are equally spellbound by I Put A Spell On You.