The majesty of Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring”

Nina Simone

I recently discovered singer/songwriter Nina Simone by accident, while searching for James Brown music on Youtube.

Simone was a classically-trained jazz pianist, who succeeded in not pigeonholing herself into any genre. She performed standard covers with emotional original arrangements. Hearing her sing on a loving “Brown Baby” hooked me on her sultry voice, dark and mellow. She also sounded defiant and full of spite, as on the scathing “Backlash Blues” in later years, when she championed civil-rights causes.

So I bought a Nina Simone ‘greatest hits’ CD —— ‘Nina: The Essential Nina Simone —— to dip my toe in the water. One song that stood out for me was ‘Plain Gold Ring,’ about a woman pining for a married man.

She sings plainly at first– she knows he’s not going to be available, and she’s resigned to that fact. Before the second verse though, she cries out a regal ‘oh’ which extends into a plaintive anthem where you can almost see her riding a cold ocean, waiting for the man who never comes. It’s clear that wanting what she can’t have is going to keep her from living.

The stark drums march the tune along as her repeating piano melody keeps step. As she sings the chorus at the end, her voice fades into the dark. I love to listen to it.

While surfing the Tube, I found Kimbra’s version of this song. I’m aghast at Kimbra‘s take, in which she  unabashedly uses an Audacity-type voice editor. It’s so sterile when up against Simone’s.

It’s not possible to really compare these two versions of ‘Plain Gold Ring,’ but you can try:

Let me know what you think.

‘Plain Gold Ring’:

Dig It or Ditch It: Dig Simone’s version, Ditch Kimbra’s.

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Filed under Blues, Jazz, Remake, Uncategorized, VIdeos

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