1. Little Girl Blue
2. Backlash Blues
3. Be My Husband
4. I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free)
6. African Mailman
7. Someone to Watch over Me
8. My Baby Just Cares for Me
There was a time, long ago, when people paid to visit asylums to watch the inmates. Funfairs also used to have "freak shows" which offered the same sort of spectacle. The audience for Nina Simone's performance at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival may have felt they were watching something similar. Nina's extraordinary performance has been summed up by one critic as "batshit insane".
The concert starts well enough, with Little Girl Blue mingled with Good King Wenceslas to convey the poignancy of Christmas. Yet even in this comparatively calm song, Nina seems on the edge of chaos. Her concerts were seldom a load of laughs but this one starts gloomily and degenerates into depressingly bizarre.
She almost snarls the lyrics of Backlash Blues and she interleaves the words with incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness rambling. In the middle of Be My Husband, she stops to talk to the audience, telling them that she thought of singing a song about Janis Joplin but the audience "weren't worthy". Rude! She reiterates the same words over and over against a repetitive rock beat.
Her interpretation of I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free) is very different from Billy Taylor's classic version - virtually thumping, without Billy's relaxation. Her voice descends to an unsettling whisper in Stars/Feelings and she loses the words of the latter song. We have the sense of a woman falling apart in public, although the audience applauds her ecstatically, as if she can do nothing wrong.
African Mailman starts with a lengthy piano ostinato and some African drumming (percussionist uncredited). This track is virtually seven minutes of repetitious drums, cowbell and an irritating riff. The CD contains two "bonus tracks" from the 1987 Montreux Festival. Someone to Watch over Me begins with more than two minutes of melodramatic piano leading into unsteady vocals with an approximation of the tune. Nina then goes into a pseudo-classical reading of her hit My Baby Just Cares for Me, although the song is barely recognisable.
If you want to subject yourself to more dejection, these Montreux performances are also available on a DVD with three extra tracks. The CD edits out some of the embarrassing parts of the concert, such as in Stars, where Nina shouts peremptorily at an audience member to sit down. Personally, I feel that this concert was self-indulgent, rambling, embarrassing - and deeply depressing. Other albums will be hard put to beat this CD to the accolade of Worst Album of the Year.