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Meshell Ndegeocello

Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

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Last Updated: 06/04/2014 9:59 am
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As befits the unconventional Ndegeocello, Pour une Âme Souveraine is no straight exercise in idol mimicry. Hypnotic, stark, and acutely introspective, its moody sound re-interprets Simone-linked classics like "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," "Feeling Good," and "Either Way I Lose," setting the songs within minimal, pulsing beats and rainy, gray-hued reverb. In another brave move by its maker, the set features lead vocals on several tracks by such guests as Sinead O'Connor, Lizz Wright, and Toshi Reagon. The latter, a long-time friend of Ndegeocello's, appears on "House of the Rising Sun" and "Real Real." "In 2012 I curated three nights of [New York's] Schomburg Women's Jazz Festival," Reagon says. "I asked Meshell to do one of the nights, and she did Nina Simone music. It was incredible. It was the first time I felt like someone understood something about Nina's songbook. Why is that important? Because Nina did not write most of the music she sang. She made choices, and she created versions so powerful that we consider many of those songs Nina Simone songs. Meshell re-introduced some of that music to us by taking the same approach."

Believe it or not, as of late the queen of the funky low end has increasingly been putting aside her main instrument while making music. At a recent housing benefit concert she joined in on laptop for a version of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" with her Hudson neighbors Melissa Auf der Maur and Rasputina's Melora Creager, and has also been spotted accompanying herself on piano at open mikes. "I'm in a new place now," says Ndegeocello. "They say when you stop giving people what they want, they stop wanting you. And I understand why that is. But, at the same time, when I feel like people just want the same thing from me again, I become disinterested and do something else. I'm like, 'Yeah, that's right, I'm changing. And guess what? I'm gonna change again.'"

Pour une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone is out now on Naïve Records. Meshell.com.

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