Album Reviews

Album Review: Nina Simone - Fodder On My Wings (Universal)

Reuben Raj
Nina Simone - I Sing Just To Know That I'm Alive

In March 2020, Fodder On My Wings (1982) by the one and only Nina Simone was re-released by Universal Music Group in collaboration with the Nina Simone Charitable Trust. The 2020 version includes new album artwork by Stanley Chow Illustration & Design and the extra tracks; "Alone Again Naturally", “Stop” and “They Took My Hand”.

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1982 album artwork for Fodder On My Wings

Fodder On My Wings is largely regarded as one of the more obscure albums by the late Nina Simone but it contains some of her most personal musings and compositions. Since this writer attributes a large part of his musical upbringing to the multi-talented musician and civil rights activist, it is a pleasure to keep Nina’s memory and legacy alive with a brief review of the 2020 album version. 

The album starts off with an upbeat Simone facing Trinidad in "I Sing Just To Know That I'm Alive" and like many other of her songs, there’s always a hint of mischief or just plain cynicism in the lyrics. Well the mountains they won't move no they don't /And the people they can’t dance and they won't /Je chante, oui, je chante /I sing and I swing /I sing just to know that I'm alive... 

The union of tribal folk themes, classical and jazz elements stands out proudly in the album. The soft tones of a xylophone along with the baroque melodies from a harpsichord, grand piano and an electric bass line in “Fodder In Her Wings” is just simply divine. A true representation of how Simone masterfully bridges the past and the present.

The soothing Caribbean lullaby “Il y a un baume à Gilead” with church organs and whispers of reverence in the gospel hymn “Thandewye” demonstrates a unique kind of spirituality that permeates throughout the body of work. On the extreme end of the spectrum, we also hear a catchy big band jazzy disco sound with defiant trumpets in “I Was Just a Stupid Dog to Them”.

But, the irrefutable highlight in this 2020 reiteration is the sad and intimate track, "Alone Again Naturally" where Simone painfully accounts her estranged relationship with her father. She refused to say how my father was/But I knew he'd be dying soon/And I was oh so glad, and it was oh so sad/That I realized that I despised this man I once called Father... Her conflicted sorrow remains as the melodies soar and Simone before a barren piano dramatically announces; “I waited three weeks for him to die...

But it is not just dark times with her father that Simone remembers as she joyfully sings “Heaven Belongs to You” in her signature English & French style.

“Color Is a Beautiful Thing” is Simone at her best tongue-in-cheek moment in the album. She can be fun and vibrant in her songs but there’s always a bite like the colourful “Liberian Calypso”. There's so much gossip in the town/Nobody knows what's really going down/Stench, smells, I couldn't stand it/The dirtier you are, the more you're here - Run Nina, run as fast as you can! 

A ‘friendly’ poke, a cynical word or sometimes a blatant fist to the face. “Le peuple en Suisse” is how Simone’s describes her time with the Swiss whom she felt were empty and unloving according to sources from her stay in Switzerland. The extra track “Stop” is perhaps the ‘strangest’ Nina song in this collection where she literally squawks the word ’Stop’ at the end of the song verses - bizarre? No, that’s just Nina Simone doing what Nina Simone wants to do.

Since the songs in this album were not remastered in any way, one should not expect any distinct ‘enhancements’ in sound. Nonetheless, this writer did notice slight drops in audio volumes between songs particularly in the first half of the LP.

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All in all, Fodder On My Wings is a worthy and relevant choice of Black Classical Music for Universal to re-introduce and distribute to seasoned and new followers of the revered High Priestess of soul-jazz; especially now when the world stands at the brink of change and a better tomorrow that Nina Simone spent her life fighting for.

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Eunice Kathleen Waymon aka Nina Simone (1933 - 2003)
May She Rest In Eternal Peace

Click here to stream or buy
Released: March 2020

Written By: Reuben Raj Reuben is a film and digital photographer who is driven by music in his head. Often seen lurking behind a camera inside the pit of a concert or wandering the streets of China with a blond, Reuben harbours intimate feelings for vinyl records and his Hasselblad SW/C from 1965. He is also the founder of Radio 13.