Last year's Nina SimoneRemixed & Reimagined was just that: Simone as an iconic karaoke Angela Davis with something to say—and vocal tracks around which to build songs. Here, owing to the originals' older recording dates and their apparent lack of separate vocal tracks, snippets of Billie Holiday's woozy-bluesy vocals too often only inspire sleepy, run-on trip-hop jams. GXR's "Long Gone Blues" fuzzes out a vocal sample and builds a sun-stroked track around it with great synth solos, but it's more reimagined than remixed. Nickodemus and Zeb's "Trav'lin All Alone" uses more percussion and clarinet samples than vocals to build its thrift-store funk, while Organica's "Summertime" is so cool it's cold, with its icy piano tinkles and hesitant beats; a Massive Attack'd "Strange Fruit" this is not, but rather simple meditations that circle Holiday's vocals when you want them to square off and build to something more.
On that tip, Lady Bug (of Digable Planets) is so inspired by the swinging "Spreadin' Rhythm Around," she starts "dropping bombs like Max Roach," rhyming over a high-stepping New Orleans march for the album's bust-out track and one of the few efforts here that dusts off Billie's vocal and her spirit enough to actually reimagine it as something more than a hazy sonic homage. Ditto for DJ Logic's "Glad to Be Unhappy," which builds from strings and a standout vocal into a layered, lush Five Stairsteps-like soul that should have J Dilla knocking on Lady Day's door up in heaven to do more work like this.
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