Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

A dignified and humbling tribute

Is it ever wise to imitate a great singer? Theoretically, the answer is no. Chicago-born Karen Underwood, however, throws theory out the window in Singing Nina; her voyage through the life and times of the legendary Nina Simone.

Underwood, now resident in Cork, is a born performer, and far from mimicking Simone in iconic numbers such as George Gershwin's I Loves You, Porgy; she clearly lives them personally.

Her gut-wrenchingly dignified account of Strange Fruit, the Billie Holiday standard, stunningly re-visits the savagery of black lynchings in the American south.

For three rapt minutes, Underwood owns the song.

Black Is The Colour, sparsely accompanied on electric guitar, is another probingly emotional interpretation – Underwood commanding the room with her still, magnetising presence.

She can swing too, in an airy, jazz-inflected Here Comes The Sun and a simmering version of Sinnerman, in which her crisply attentive four-piece band provide buoyant backing. Between songs Underwood inserts snippets from the Nina Simone biography, with occasional tasteful underscoring.

But Simone's is not the main story here, moving as it often is.

That belongs to Karen Underwood, a performer who has the rare gift of both humbling her audiences, and making them feel happier, with the warm, authentic glow of her artistry.

TERRY BLAIN

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