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This review is from: Mystery Lady - Songs Of Billie Holiday (Audio CD)
I bought this album largely because of my daughter since she is a very bluesy singer and I thought there would be material that she might want to sing. I have to admit that apart from listening to it once, I haven't much bothered, apart from today that is, and it was today's experience that led me to review this album.
Etta is largely remembered as a bluesy shouter, as witnessed in much of her extensive catalogue with Chess Records, and it always struck me that nobody quite matched her high intensity of delivery. Chess really tried to get Etta the hit she always deserved and her Muscle Shoals sessions showed what so easily could have been for she ran the great Aretha Franklin a close second with songs such as 'Tell mama' and 'I'd rather go blind'. Sadly, and by and large, it was never to be and real success largely eluded her although she garnered a large and a loyal following throughout her career.
I think it is fair to say that Etta didn't have a very easy life. Although I haven't read her autobiography, it always struck me that the high energy of her delivery in her youth somehow reflected the intensity of the pain she had experienced in her life. In many ways her loss was our gain but there is great truth in the fact that one cannot go on leading a life of such intensity without paying a price.
Etta paid the ultimate price earlier this year after many years battling ill health. Recorded in the nineties, if I remember correctly, this homage to Billie Holiday earned Etta a Grammy; it pleases me that she found that recognition. It has to be said that nobody could claim that Etta was a great jazz singer. She takes few liberties with the melodies here nor with the tempo. Her vocal mannerisms lack the variety that Lady Day herself gave her interpretations, but then again and to this day, many view Billie Holiday as the greatest jazz singer of all time, which suggests what a hostage to fortune this album might have presented for Etta.
So what makes it such a powerful and a rewarding experience? Well partly it is who the singer is. The great Etta after all those years, tired but still utterly honest and sincere in her delivery. So few singers can offer such sincerity that the songs they sing sound lived in by them alone, but this is the quality of this great lady's delivery. Then of course must be added some of the finest jazz players including pianist and arranger, Cedar Watson, and Red Holloway on horns. The support that they give Etta is exemplary. A standout for me as a guitarist is Etta's version of Lover Man, a song that many musicians fear for its harmonic simplicity. Here, Etta is accompanied very finely by guitarist Josh Sklair.
The result, a wonderfully rewarding album of venerable standards of the genre. All very much of one tempo by and large, but from someone like Etta, what might appear from lesser singers as sentimental or cloying has the great and deeply moving dignity of a woman who knew exactly what she was singing about.
There's not much higher accolade can be paid to a singer. Highly recommended.