In this stunning CD, Carmen McRae pays homage to her friend and idol, Billie Holiday, singing the twelve songs on the original album, plus two bonus tracks--"If the Moon Turns Green," sung as a wonderfully slow ballad, and Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song," with its slower than usual pacing.
With her strong alto, huge range, and ability to change moods, McRae varies her sound throughout the CD, sometimes sounding deliberately gravelly, then switching to softly sweet and romantic, matching the timbre of the instruments accompanying her. She alternates her tempo from slow and dramatic to lively, jazzy, flirty, or intimate. Always, she and the musicians accompanying her are in perfect sync, both in interpreting the lyrics and improvising with the melodies.
Every song is a winner. "Them There Eyes," begins with McRae singing off-rhythm, accompanied by a simple bass (Bob Cranshaw) and drums (Walter Perkins) before the sax (Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis) enters. "I'm Gonna Lock My Heart," is the happiest, with McRae hitting some surprising high notes. "Miss Brown to You," swings in a loose, flirty manner, and "I Cried for You" features McRae sounding like a muted trumpet and wailing. "Lover Man" is wonderfully bluesy, with a toe-tapping rhythm and improvisation, while "A Little Moonlight," with great piano (Norman Simmons), sax (Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis) and trumpet (Nat Adderley) solos, is wild and impassioned.
"Yesterdays," my favorite, begins as a slow, harshly melancholy song with sensitive piano background, then suddenly pauses slightly in the middle, and shifts to a faster, jazzier, more rhythmic line in which McRae is up and down and all over the scale. "Strange Fruit," one of Holiday's signature songs, is finely articulated, and McRae's phrasing and ironically sweet tones give even more emphasis to the horrifying lyrics as Mundell Lowe's guitar provides the mournful accompaniment. The remixing and the total absence of background noise add incredible drama to this already powerful song. "God Bless the Child," written by Holiday, is slow and intimate, and as McRae phrases the story, her wailing adds poignancy to the lyrics.
Blessed with a voice and style that naturally adapts to any kind of jazz, along with the ability to articulate lyrics with perfect enunciation and phrasing, McRae is the consummate musician here. Singing some of Billie Holiday's best songs, and accompanied by world class artists with whom she is totally in sync, McRae in this CD is as good as it gets. Mary Whipple