Fodder On My Wings, the 1982 album from legendary singer, songwriter and activist Nina Simone, became recently available on the Verve/Ume label. A personal favourite of Simone’s, and a long-sought-after rarity, this expanded edition of Fodder On My Wings can now be found on CD and vinyl and, for the very first time, in both standard and hi-res audio formats.
The number of Nina Simone albums is close to a hundred, and this one is one of her most obscure, and most interesting. Recorded in 1982 in Paris, shortly after she settled there, at a difficult time in her life; financially, psychologically and physically. Not only was Simone feeling isolated in a new country, but her mental illness was worsening and her family life was broken. However, she channelled her despair into writing some of her most powerful material, including ‘I Was Just A Stupid Dog To Them’ and the near-title-track, ‘Fodder In Her Wings’, which Pitchfork included in their roundup of Simone’s most iconic songs.
The publication proclaimed that the original version of the composition, which Simone would revisit several years later, “Captured with startling intimacy the pain of this period”. Pitchfork added that, “Simone’s vocal makes a song of weariness and defeat carry an air of defiance, a wise word from someone who survived to tell the tale”.
Another standout track is the triumphant ‘I Sing Just To Know That I’m Alive’, which became a popular live song for the artist later in her career. Full of upbeat percussion and horns, the song was clearly influenced by the African musicians that Simone had met in France.
She recorded ten very personal songs for the original album, with African-French musicians who all excelled; Jacco Pastorius-like bassist Sylvin Marc and percussionists Paco Sery and Sydney Thaim. Nina sings in both French and English. Songs that were very dear to her are witnessed by later performances. And she plays piano and harpsichord, arranged her own soulful compositions, and morphed the stately sound of her classical piano education in Philadelphia past with her then-current travels; through Europe and the Caribbean—and of course, the blues. Living her best and freest life, Fodder On My Wings was truly her declaration of independence, of no compromise. The CD reissue includes three additional tracks from the same recording session, including Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again Naturally, with adapted lyrics, about her father.
What makes this album so special? Simone was able to accurately put into words her misery at the time, and her piano playing and vocals sound extremely lived-in.
A very welcome re-issue, as this reanimation might be an odd, but certainly beautiful surprise. Rich in dynamics and contrasts, like Simone was, and always would be.
Her most famous song, My Baby Cares For Me, was already recorded in 1958, for her first album Little Girl Blue, aka Jazz As Played In An Exclusive Side Street Club (issued in 1959), but it was used for a Chanel No.5 commercial in 1988 and it was an instant hit again. This brought her a good deal of money, but at the time her career and personal life were on a low point. A good friend of her invited her to come and stay in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, to get rest and care, far away from the craziness in France. She bought an apartment nearby the city center, overlooking the wide valley of the river Waal, and lived there for two years, after which she moved to Amsterdam for another couple of years. It was in this time that I first came aware of Nina Simone as a person and great performer of a huge repertoire, not only of the singer of that catchy and famous song.
Writer of this article was born in Nijmegen, a quiet midsized provincial town nearby the German border, in the east of the Netherlands. Although for a little while it was the talk of the town that a world famous singer resided in –of all places- Nijmegen, she could actually live an anonymous life there. Which helped her very much in recovering from bad times, although she in this period also got diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, and received treatment for it. Nevertheless, slowly she worked her way up towards a real come back on the stage. Later on she moved from Amsterdam back to France, and recorded several more albums there.
Needless to say that after I got to know more of her and her music, I became a big fan. Especially interesting I find her fascinating piano play, which in many songs by nature but at the same time very inventively fused classical themes from J.S. Bach with modern jazz and blues styles. Just listen to this first track of Fodder On My Wings, played on harpiscord and piano:
It’s giving me chills.