The two albums enclosed in At Town Hall/The Amazing Nina Simone bookend the remarkable summer of 1959 in the career of Nina Simone, when she recorded a studio session, The Amazing Nina Simone, in May, and in September appeared At Town Hall in a superlative performance that was recorded and soon issued. Just 26, Simone displayed great assurance, especially on the live date, casting off the cloak of the vocal jazz/standards singer and performing with her own trio featuring her lively piano. The studio date features an orchestra, but it too finds her early on in her recording career stamping her voice on standards "Willow Weep for Me" and "Blue Prelude".
This album was apparently a bit of a pastiche of leftovers from sessions for Nina Simone's four previous albums on Philips. But you'd never guess from listening; the material is certainly as strong and consistent as it is on her other mid-'60s LPs. As is the case with most of her albums of the time, the selections are almost unnervingly diverse, ranging from jazz ballads to traditional folk tunes ("Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair") to the near calypso of "Why Keep on Breaking My Heart" to the somber, almost chilling title track. Highlights are two outstanding pop-soul numbers written by the pre-disco Van McCoy ("Either Way I Lose," "Break Down and Let It All Out") and "Four Women," a string of searing vignettes about the hardships of four African-American women that ranks as one of Simone's finest compositions.