Billie Holiday would now be 98 - had she lived that long, which was always unlikely. Born illegitimate in Pennsylvania to a housemaid and a waiter in 1915, and raised in Baltimore, she had one of the most influential, not to mention unforgettable, singing voices of the twentieth century, inspiring as many fellow singers as did Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles or anyone you care to mention. You can readily hear her soulful-swingin` jazz-blues tones in voices as disparate as those of, say, Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse. But Billie was unique, a lady - as well as a Lady! - who sounded mature and girlish, old and young, ancient and modern all at once.
She sang a standard as if it were second nature, turning it into a timeless bluesy lament, or a once-in-a-lifetime moment of improvisatory jazz-inflected drama. She sang songs like she was born singing. And yet, she could wring your heart with a lyric, as though only she knew the true depths of the heartbreak she mercilessly displayed to the hapless listener.
I can`t for the life of me imagine anyone not appreciating Billie Holiday, though I expect there must be a few, somewhere.
These Sony reissue `Real...` sets are nicely packaged, well-filled, low-priced, but under-documented, compilations which give generally excellent introductions to some key singers and musicians of the modern era. I would have liked to know a little more about these tracks, with a brief note about Billie, but really the lady speaks eloquently for herself, and besides, if you have this then you may well want to get other collections with fuller listings and a Billie biog included. As an enticing introduction to the irreplaceable Billie Holiday, this will do the trick.
I didn`t have many of these tracks, and it`s wonderful at last to have her suitably forlorn recording of the notorious Gloomy Sunday, which I`d despaired of finding on a compilation. I`ll leave the interested to read up on this particular song for themselves - it has its own mythology.
A few of her classics are here, in early versions, such as God Bless the Child, Easy Living (a great song), Summertime, You Go To My Head, All of Me, and others.
But most of these songs are lesser known Billie tracks, which is refreshing, since you don`t get the usual fare you can easily find elsewhere. For example, try CD2 track 18: I`ve Got a Date With a Dream - marvellous!
These are songs she recorded for Columbia in the late thirties and early forties. The sound is fairly `hissy` on many tracks, but - unless you are ultra-finicky when it comes to sonic clarity - this only adds to the overall atmosphere. (These precious recordings are over 70 years old...)
You can play Billie anywhere at any time, and she always `fits in`. I listened to CD1 last night while I lay on my bed, hot, tired and sun-baked (I`m typing this during a rare July heatwave) and it was balm to the ears, mind and senses.
Nearly four hours of Billie Holiday at a bargain price. It`s what I believe is these days called a no-brainer.