"Don't think too much, people" is the spoken word snippet that begins the title track of Amelia White's newest album, Rhythm of the Rain. It's a flippant warning, a half-joke, a sideways call-to-arms that announces a casual subversion threading through these rollicking 9 songs from the opening explosion of Summer sunshine, through the heat of lust and addiction, landing with a glance at politics and fate while the window is still wide open, warm breeze blowing in the late afternoon. Amelia White asks us to not take it all so seriously and, at the same time, shows us how critical it all is: love, fate, death, grief, politics, which isn't surprising considering White made this record in the four days between her Mother's funeral and her own wedding. Rhythm of the Rain digs deep. Her well worn smokey pipes deliver a rawness you'd expect from mining that liminal space between grief and joy.
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.
Conductor Michael Hofstetter does a beautiful job bringing out the nuances from the Orchestra of Ludwigsburg Schlossfestspiele in Il Trovatore. This is evident from the thunderous roll of the timpani at the beginning of the opera, and the careful phrasing throughout the album. Every dynamic is observed, and the result is the high drama crucial to Verdi. The famous "Anvil Chorus" is another example of the orchestra's power to rouse the listener, as are the dark brass chords in the "Finale ultimo." The chorus, under the direction of Jan Hoffman, deserves equal praise.
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".