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Lady in Satin
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Lady In Satin
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|Audio CD, Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered, September 23, 1997||
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HOLIDAY BILLIE LADY IN SATIN
A harrowing classic, Billie Holiday's personal favorite among her '50s albums captures the singer 17 months before her death, her once honeyed voice, scarred and weakened from punishing life, its ravages highlighted by the 1958 session's crisp sonics and the contrasting "satin" of Ray Ellis' sleek string arrangements. Yet it is that very contrast that explains the power of these performances: In revisiting its torchy standards, Holiday reduces them to their core of pain and longing, transforming "I'm a Fool to Want You," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "You've Changed" into naked declarations as mesmerizing and unsettling as a horrific accident. Any postrocker that presumes pop standards and string sections automatically translate to "easy listening" hasn't listened to this. This 1997 version adds unreleased takes and a beautiful 20-bit digital transfer to extract every shivering pang of Holiday's music. --Sam Sutherland
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Though it brought attention to her tragic life to a new generation, the 1970's movie biography, "Lady Sings the Blues," also gave us Diana Ross's "commericialized" version of Holiday's music, leaving some listeners more enamored with the "story" performance by Ross than with Holiday's actual singing. Sadly, that is the shallow depth that many people's knowledge of Billie Holiday has been able to reach, and even that has faded with the passing years.
Well, I've come to agree with my late father's assessment of Billie Holiday, "Probably the greatest jazz singer ever--maybe one of the best singers, period." As my review title suggests, I don't think most people can appreciate Billie Holiday until they have been through the emotional wringer--maybe a few times or more. Have a relationship you thought would last forever come crashing down around your ears, or lose people closest to you, or face your own life-changing crises--well, then you may "get it" when you listen to Billie Holiday. And, as others have noted, all of that pain and pathos just comes pouring out in this, what can only be called her "swan song" album.
Listen to this album, and most everything you will hear from then on may just seem emotionally shallow and superficial--especially nearly all of today's "pop slop." This album is for people who are musically and emotionally grown-up. Nearly every tune on this album is a jazz standard, covered by dozens upon dozens of singers over the years. But, Billie Holiday, with frail voice and raw emotions, manages to "own" nearly every one of these tunes, such that you will likely think her version to be the definitive one from the moment you first hear her sing it on this album. As to some peoples' criticism of the lush string arrangements--well, first, it was not uncommon in the era--part, I think, of the evolution and maturation of jazz. And what orchestrations they are! Ray Ellis's arrangements and conducting can not be faulted on this album. At once both a juxtaposition and cocoon for Holiday's fragile voice, the orchestrations both allow Holiday's vocals to shine and yet wrap it in musical "satin" as the album title suggests.
Would this album be as good if Holiday's voice had been the marvel it was in her younger years? Would this album hold the listener in an emotional vice had it not been recorded at the end of Holiday's sad and tortured life? Acadamic questions, really. Just know that that album is a masterpiece--probably one of those "essential masterpieces," not only of jazz, but among all musical genres. I believe it was Louis Armstrong that said about jazz, "If you have to ask what it is, you'll never know." Well, if this album doesn't twist your heart in an emotional knot when you really sit down and listen to it--that is, listen to the music and to what's in your heart--then no music will ever touch your soul the way that it should.
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