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BWW CD Review: NATALIE DOUGLAS TO NINA... LIVE AT BIRDLAND Is The CD Everyone Needs

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This 2005 CD is as good today as it was the day it came out... maybe even better.

BWW CD Review: NATALIE DOUGLAS TO NINA... LIVE AT BIRDLAND Is The CD Everyone NeedsNatalie Douglas is one of the great entertainers, a singer whose name should be on a list with Nancy Wilson, Judy Garland, Diahann Carroll and Sammy Davis Jr. - this writer's personal favorites. Oh, and Nina Simone. New Yorkers have had this little gift from Natalie Douglas for a couple of years now, her ongoing concert series TRIBUTES, where Ms. Douglas has sung the music of Nancy Wilson, Judy Garland, and Sammy Davis Jr. The Birdland-hosted shows are constant sell outs and Natalie Douglas always delivers the goods, and then some. With the holiday season upon us, the truly perfect gift from Santa Claus would be a collection of CDs from each of the Natalie Douglas Tributes shows, but since that doesn't exist, let it be said that this CD homage is more than enough.

Natalie Douglas TO NINA... LIVE AT BIRDLAND is actually not a recording from the Tributes series - it was recorded in 2004 for a 2005 release, years before Douglas had the idea to do Tributes; still, it is hard not to think of the show as a part of the series, maybe even the place where the idea was born - and why not? This isn't just a good album, it's a great album, and it's one of the most entertaining, well produced, enjoyable live albums you may ever experience. Clearly, Ms. Douglas has a deep attachment to and appreciation of Ms. Simone - it shows in every note sung, every word spoken, every moment preserved on the recording.

Listeners who aren't up on their Nina Simone, don't be embarrassed - not every singer can be on your radar, even when they are famous to the extent of legendary status. Everything has its own time, and maybe the time for you to meet Nina Simone hasn't surfaced... until now. Listeners who don't know from Natalie Douglas, don't be worried - you can meet her today. In fact, this album will make Nina Simone fans out of Natalie Douglas devotees, and Natalie Douglas aficionados out of Nina Simone disciples. There is no greater way to appreciate the expertise of two different musical artists than to dive, face first, into this concert recording. Both Douglas and Simone are fully represented on this hour long disc in their mutual, beautiful glory. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Natalie Douglas should be the woman to take up the Nina Simone torch because both women share considerable traits, from their talent to their beauty to their passionately outspoken quest for equality in all its forms. This is a perfect marriage of talents and like minds.

One of the things that makes Natalie Douglas great is that she knows who she is and contentedly allows herself to be that. At no time does Douglas attempt to sound like Simone or to use her interpretations and inflections. Natalie Douglas is her own woman and her own storyteller, and she isn't here to do anything the way anyone did, who came before her. This is about her love for Nina and Nina's work, and that love is apparent from start to finish as she performs some of Simone's most famous recordings ... the Douglas way. And thank goodness because Natalie Douglas has a voice that is so pure, so pretty, yet so versatile that there are times when one might wonder if this is the same singer, from tune to tune. You become aware that you are listening to a voice that sounds as clear and calm as a glassy lake surface, with immaculate breath control and no vibrato, whereas moments before the depth and timbre of the sound was like a deep dive into a resonant ravine of emotional storytelling. Like some Meryl Streep of music, Ms. Douglas reinvents herself and her sound to fit each story that is being told - and thanks to Ms. Simone's varied tastes in her own storytelling, the options for Douglas are like the best musical build-a-bear you ever saw. Well... heard. Note the dirge of despair that is "The House of the Rising Sun" or the cheeky call and response of "Forbidden Fruit" (how perfect is that?). The rich sound of the former is down in Douglas' throat and chest cavity, while the latter is bright and up in her soft palate and nasal cavity - these are technical aspects that the singer makes to match choices the actor is making - and make no mistake, Natalie Douglas is a terrific actor. Together, the actor and the singer live inside this one woman, running more than one gamut in numbers like "I Put a Spell On You" and "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" or "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and "Four Women"; if you don't find yourself crying, though, from the audacity of emotion in "Why" or the sheer perfection of "Work Song" ... I'm just sayin'.

And while we're just saying things: it would be a mistake of significant proportion to not suggest that your enjoyment of this record will be doubled if you allow yourself the privilege of really listening to the work of musical director/pianist Mark Hartman, saxophonist Patience Higgins, Sean McDaniel on percussion and Steve Doyle on bass - trust me on this, they create more than back up for Douglas, they are the canvas on which she paints pictures, and all the colors in the spectrum.

Now, anyone who has seen Natalie Douglas live will tell you that a one-hour disc of a Natalie Douglas show means the recording has been edited down. There is no such thing as a one hour Natalie Douglas show; it takes half an hour for Natalie to speak the speech and share the opinions that come with the singer and the songs - it is one of the reasons people love Natalie and one of the reasons they go to her shows. It's not only about the singing and the thrill of seeing Natalie Douglas live - the extemporaneous rhetoric and spontaneous humor is a major part of the enjoyment factor. Fear not, fans, for although the major portion of the album is the Douglas voice raised in song, there are nuggets of chit chat throughout, heading for the big payoff, which is a monologue just before the final number that will satisfy all your prosaic needs and stand-up comedy wishes. That final monologue and accompanying finale are, truly, enough to make you, Nina Simone, even Baby Jesus happy. The entire record, from start to finish, is a glowing example of quality entertainment from one of the great entertainers.

Natalie Douglas To Nina... Live At Birdland is a 2005 release on the WGB Records Label and is available on all streaming platforms.


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From This Author Stephen Mosher