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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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BILLIE HOLIDAY

Lady Sings the Blues

Poll Winners Records PWR 27203

 

 

1. Trav'lin' Light
2. I Must Have That Man!
3. Some Other Spring
4. Lady Sings the Blues
5. Strange Fruit
6. God Bless the Child
7. Good Morning, Heartache
8. No Good Man
9. Love Me or Leave Me
10. Too Marvellous for Words
11. Willow Weep for Me
12. I Thought about You
13. P.S. I Love You
14. Softly
15. Stormy Blues
16. Say It Isn't So
17. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
18. I Wished on the Moon
19. Always
20. Everything Happens to Me
21. Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me

Billie Holiday - Vocals, with:

Tracks 1-8
Charlie Shavers - Trumpet
Tony Scott - Clarinet
Paul Quinichette - Tenor sax
Wynton Kelly - Piano
Kenny Burrell - Guitar
Aaron Bell - Bass
Lennie McBrowne - Drums

Tracks 9-11, 13-15
Harry "Sweets" Edison - Trumpet
Willie Smith - Alto sax
Bobby Tucker - Piano
Barney Kessel - Guitar
Red Callender - Bass
Chico Hamilton - Drums

Track 12
Bobby Tucker - Piano

Tracks 16-21
Charlie Shavers - Trumpet
Tony Scott - Clarinet
Budd Johnson - Tenor sax
Billy Taylor - Piano
Billy Bauer - Guitar
Leonard Gaskin - Bass
Cozy Cole - Drums

 

Billie Holiday was a singer with a "lived-in" voice which poignantly reflected her years of love lost and found. This bargain package illustrates the fact very well, with two complete studio sessions recorded respectively in 1956 and 1954. As an added attraction, the last six tracks are a bonus from a 1955 session.

Drink and drugs, as well as unhappy relationships, had contributed to weakening Billie's vocal range by the mid-fifties (she died in 1959), yet she could still touch the heart with plaintive but brave expressions of emotion. She had an eloquent vibrato and was happy to straddle the bar-lines, emphasising the messages in even the most conventional songs. And she was unmatched in such touching songs as Strange Fruit and Good Morning, Heartache. Billie's voice was unique - Madeleine Peyroux managed to create a passable imitation of it, but she could never equal Holiday's depth of feeling.

Billie is backed on these recordings by a starry line-up of musicians, although the focus is generally on her vocals, allowing little space for instrumental solos. On the 1956 tracks, Tony Scott's high-pitched clarinet is not as suitable for accompaniment as Charlie Shavers' muted trumpet or Paul Quinichette's Lesterian tenor sax. Shavers even adds some Harry James-style flourishes to some songs, such as the title-track, which was recorded for the first time on this album.

The album title comes from the autobiography which Billie co-wrote with William Duffy. This title then became a song, with lyrics by Billie and music by Herbie Nichols, and it was used much later for the film (starring Diana Ross) about Billie's life.

Besides the songs already mentioned, the highlights of this compilation include I Thought about You, a touching duet with pianist Bobby Tucker; the unfamiliar Softly (introduced by echoing guitar and trumpet); and Stormy Blues (with a swooping solo from altoist Willie Smith).

The last six tracks give the musicians more opportunities for solos, as well as some deft ensemble passages arranged by Leroy Lovett. I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm includes nice punctuations and a classy solo from Charlie Shavers, plus a warm solo from tenorist Budd Johnson. Tony Scott's clarinet is more mellow than previously in Always, and Billy Taylor adds a refined solo to Everything Happens to Me.

The sleeve-note points out that Billie Holiday hated suggestions that her voice in the fifties was not what it had been earlier: "Always comebacks, but nobody says where I've been". In fact this album proves that her voice was just as moving as it ever was.

Tony Augarde



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