Meshell Ndegéocello: Pour une ame souveraine – A dedication to Nina Simone

Meshell's 10th full-length studio album is a disappointingly tired tribute album to one of the greatest jazz artists of our time.

Meshell Ndegéocello

Pour une ame souveraine – A dedication to Nina Simone

Label: Naive
US Release Date: 2012-10-09
UK Release Date: 2012-10-08
Label website
Artist website

Recording and releasing a covers album is a tricky situation. You basically have to have a new enough spin on old classics to stamp your own personal brand on them in order for the whole thing to be successful. Or, you have to choose numbers that are more obscure, so most people will be listening to your version before they hear the original -- thus associating the song with you. This is the case with Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" -- a track that due predominantly to her untimely death is now disrespectfully considered to be more hers than Dolly Parton's, even though it was still widely successful in its original form. So, when you decide to record a tribute album, you are essentially making an even more precise and focused version of a covers album -- honing in on one artist's repertoire and leaving yourself vulnerable to a plethora of justifiable comparisons. However, if there's any musician out there versatile enough to hold down all the demands of making a truly mesmerizing and significant tribute album, it's the supremely talented Meshell Ndegéocello.

Unfortunately, not even Ndegéocello can completely save an unforeseeably misguided tribute album of the late, great Nina Simone -- an equally talented musician. Pour une ame souveraine – A dedication to Nina Simone is an awkward beast for a few reasons. Nina Simone, by the nature of being a jazz artist often covered fairly recognizable tunes by other famous artists, such as "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen. So, in essence, you're hearing Meshell Ndegéocello doing Nina Simone doing Leonard Cohen–the whole thing gets very surreal, very quickly, and not always in a good way.

Beginning with the slow groove "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", Pour une ame souveraine shimmies itself through with the comforting sounds and warm melodic structures that we've come to know from Ndegéocello. Someone unfamiliar with Nina Simone;s catalog wouldn't blink twice about this being a new album of original material. It's when "Suzanne" begins that you begin to question the motives and rationale for such a tribute album, especially considering that Ndegéocello's version is almost note for note the same as the faster tempo version of Ms. Simone's. It's nice enough but doesn't add anything to either Ndegéocello's abilities other than to point out that "hey, Meshell can do this song too!" It's perplexing.

As Pour une ame souveraine marches on it becomes increasingly clear that Ndegéocello 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, Ndegéocello is not the lead vocalist on all the tracks. One-third of the tunes are sung almost predominantly by guest vocalists. Every guest vocalist featured here (Toshi Reagon, Lizz Wright, Valerie June, Cody ChesnuTT, and Sinead O'Connor) does a fine job with the material they're given, but you have to wonder why a full-blown various artists tribute record wasn't fashioned here -- probably because Ndegéocello wanted more control over the project.

Ultimately, Pour une ame souveraine is a pleasant enough album and there isn't anything here that would qualify as a fail, but cohesively speaking, it feels more like an unnecessary musical venture that is really more about self-indulgence in playing the music of a respected mentor than producing something truly significant. Most of Ndegéocello's versions are quite similar to their originals, which is the real disappointment. In almost all of Ndegéocello's covers you get the sense that she has managed to muddle her fingers into the interior structure of the song and recreate something from the ground up -- giving the piece a unique and unexpected soulful spin. But when the source material has soul coming out of its bottom, there really is very little that Ndegéocello can do here that hasn't been done prior. Even her wonderful version of "Feeling Good", which is essentially a slowed down version of the same arrangement Simone gave it all those years ago, minus the occasional vocal melody recreations, feels a little limp. It's nice and would have made for a wonderful and standout inclusion in a sea of other artists interpretations of the Nina Simone, but juxtaposed against other Ndegéocello renditions, it's flat.

While Pour une ame souveraine continues Ndegéocello's trend to over-collaborate with a mountain of other equally talented musicians, unlike her original offerings (see Weather or Devil's Halo), this Nina Simone dedication is fairly disappointing. There was room here for some "wow!" moments with such a brilliant artist covering such a culturally significant icon like Nina Simone. It could have been bursting at the seams with funk and soul and reimaginings that channeled the spirit of Ms. Simone. Instead, it feels a little slack and underdeveloped to be as truly affecting as I'm sure Ndegéocello is intending. And, I don't believe anyone would have predicted this kind of outcome.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.