Nina Simone’s “Fodder On My Wings” is an album of contrasts and extremes — personal traumas and world sounds, joy and despair, harmony and defiance, the carnal and the spiritual.
Recorded in Paris in 1982, as Simone’s enduring restlessness and creeping mental illness kept her life seemingly barely tethered to anything but her music, it’s a considerable triumph of personality and genius.
The album opens with the gleeful “I Sing Just To Know That I’m Alive,” a horn-filled tune in which Simone bids farewell to the year gone by while fondly recalling Trinidad, one of the many places — Barbados, Liberia, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands among them — where she lived after leaving the U.S. in the early 1970s.
“Fodder In Her Wings” appears to depersonalize the album title, but the references to self are clear and the weariness deeply intimate — “fodder in her wings” and “dust inside her brains” as “she flitted here and there.” With an African-inspired introduction ceding to harpsichord and piano, her worlds appear together but separate. “Oh, how sad” — indeed.
The repetitive, direct approach of “Vous etes seuls, mais je désire etre avec vous” — You are alone, but I want to be with you — leaves no room for doubt, while “Il y a un baume à Gilead” and “Heaven Belongs To You” are the spiritual expressions in the equation
“Liberian Calypso” is another sparkling composition recounting a carefree night of dancing, followed in brutal contrast by one of the bonus tracks, a bitter yet stately reworking of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” more depressing even that the original.
Narrating her father’s agonizing death, it rails against bad but lasting marriages, betrayals and childhood deceptions, yet includes a most understandable lament: “I loved him then and I loved him still/That’s why my heart’s so broken.”
The string of ups and downs continues with another horn-driven dancefloor filler — the caustic and empowering “I Was Just a Stupid Dog to Them,” which claims that “now everything will change.”
At the end, the brief “Stop” and the even briefer “They Took My Hand” are in playful, Mose Allison mode, the former undressing the tragedy of “Send In the Clowns” and the latter a rollicking Bob Marley salute.
“Fodder On My Wings” is not an album for casual listeners or day trippers but one which shows how clearly Simone could fold her inescapable anguish and raw honesty into her art.