Lush, underappreciated gem from Simone's wilderness years

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Nina Simone – Baltimore
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Never the easiest woman to coerce, Nina Simone’s single-mindedness meant that for most of the ’70s her music went unrecorded. In 1978, however, the CTI label tempted her into a Brussels studio to record the frequently lovely Baltimore.

Predictably, she was soon bemoaning her lack of artistic involvement in the album. There are no Simone originals here, while faint reggae touches and a perky cover of Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” suggest someone had fanciful commercial expectations of this most resilient genius. But ballads like Judy Collins’ “My Father”, where an imperious, comparatively restrained Simone stares down the oceanic string section, are wonderful. As with so many of her records, a triumph of grace under pressure.