Releasing a covers album is tricky. You either have to have a new enough spin on classics to stamp your own personal brand on them or you must choose numbers that are more obscure, so most people will be listening to your version before they hear the original. If there’s anyone versatile enough to make a truly mesmerizing and significant tribute album, it’s the supremely talented Meshell Ndegeocello. Unfortunately, not even Ndegeocello can save a misguided tribute to the late, great Nina Simone.
“Pour une ame souveraine” is an awkward beast for a few reasons. Simone often covered recognizable tunes by other famous artists, such as “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. So, in essence, you’re hearing Meshell Ndegeocello doing Nina Simone doing Leonard Cohen. It becomes clear that Ndegeocello is not interested in re-interpreting these tunes to suit her own personal and unique musical sensibilities – besides effecting her mesmerizingly seductive baritone voice. And even at that, she’s not the lead vocalist on all the tracks. One-third of the tunes are sung almost predominantly by guest vocalists. Every guest vocalist (Toshi Reagon, Lizz Wright, Valerie June, Cody ChesnuTT and Sinead O’Connor) does a fine job, but you have to wonder why a full-blown various artists tribute record wasn’t fashioned here.
There was room here for some “wow!” moments with such a brilliant artist covering an icon like Simone. It could have been bursting with funk and soul and reimaginings that channeled the spirit of Simone. Instead, it feels a little slack and underdeveloped to be as truly affecting as I’m sure Ndegeocello intends. I don’t believe anyone would have predicted this kind of outcome.