Billie Holiday: Lady Sings The Blues

The well-known title album, bluesy but tired and with few solos to colour proceedings, is happily paired with the more eventful Stay With Me

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This new reissue offers two Holiday albums on one compact disc. The first was originally issued with the above title by Verve in 1956. Although blues-based, the songs chosen here are varied and include standard tunes of the day along with Billie specialities such as Strange Fruit and God Bless The Child.

She is more laid back on these revisits to old favourites but by 1956 her voice was fading and she was beginning to tire and become somewhat sad and world weary. The plaintive voice was still intact, just about, and her sombre readings are typical of her later performances. Some Other Spring is sung with a high degree of intensity and a yearning quality.

The blues are in everything she sang and in the way that she sang, although here they come through most powerfully on tracks such as Trav’lin Light, Lady Sings The Blues, (the song pianist Herbie Nichols dedicated to her) and Good Morning Heartache. The best and most solid blues reading is on Stormy Blues, a highlight of this first album. Curiously, this piece was not included on the LP.

The 13 tracks on offer here have sturdy backing from a well-selected support band in which wisps of trumpet from Shavers and Edison and backing filigrees from Tony Scott’s clarinet are heard but no instrumental solos. Wynton Kelly is also there to provide gentle nudges on piano and regular comping but, like the others, no solo spots.

The second LP here is Stay With Me, a curious title considering that nobody ever did stay with Billie. Perhaps it was chosen as a cry from the heart. This time it is all standards, and she puts a high degree of emotive expression into each lyric.

This time there are also first-rate, supportive, encouraging solos – from Tony Scott, Shavers and, especially, Budd Johnson. The latter provides those gauzy, floating tenor sax lines that Billie loved ever since her Lester Young days in the 30s. Ain’t Misbehavin’ receives an upbeat reading that contrasts neatly with some of the more, sombre tunes. These seven final selections are the best overall.

Discography
[Lady Sings The Blues] Travlin’ Light; I Must Have That Man; Some Other Spring; Lady Sings The Blues; Strange Fruit; God Bless The Child; Good Morning Heartache; No Good Man; Love Me Or Leave Me; Too Marvellous For Words; Willow Weep For Me; I Thought About You; Stormy Blues; [Stay With Me] I Wished On The Moon; Ain’t Misbehavin’; Everything Happens To Me; Say It Isn’t So; I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; Always; Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (76.12)
Holiday (v) with bands including Harry Edison, Charlie Shavers (t); Tony Scott (cl); Paul Quinichette, Bud Johnson (ts); Wynton Kelly, Bobby Tucker, Billy Taylor (p); Barney Kessel, Billy Bauer, Kenny Burrell (elg); Aaron Bell, Red Callender, Leonard Gaskin (b); Cozy Cole, Lenny McBrowne, Chico Hamilton (d). NYC & LA 1954-1956.
20th Century Masterworks 170037

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