Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 165: Billie Holiday

Well, it was a hard day today, without a lot of good news, but at least it ended with beers with friends and a music review, so I'll focus on the positive.

The beers were good (Back Hand of God Stout), and the company excellent. Now, the review:

Disc 165 is...The Quintessential Billie Holliday, Vol. 5
Artist: Billie Holliday

Year of Release: 1938

What’s Up With The Cover?: It's a head shot of Billie Holliday. She's a fine looking woman, and I give this cover a thumbs up.

How I Came To Know It: I actually learned about Billie Holliday through a woman I used to date many years ago. She was a huge fan, and had Billie on vinyl. I didn't buy any until many years later, but that was the kernel of the idea.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Billie Holliday albums - all from this nine disc set called "The Quintessential Billie Holiday". I have Volumes 4, 5, and 9. I'm not even sure on what basis I chose them. I think I planned to buy them all at some point, but never got that far. Anyway, since they're all 'best ofs' they don't stack up, so that's that.

Rating: Can't really rate a best of - that's the way of things, even with thirties music where getting an original album is pretty hard. I can't go around changing the rules at this point, over 150 discs in.

Another jazz album that I can't get an emotional reaction to - this time the late, great Billie Holliday.

Her talent is undeniable, and I think of all the jazz crooners, she's my favourite. I like the way she phrases a line, playing with her timing ever so slightly but always perfectly in tune.

The music didn't really grab me though, and so my favourite tracks tend to be more based on topic than tune. I enjoyed "He's Funny That Way" a song about a man in a bad relationship, and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" a song about a woman in a bad relationship. And to break the theme, a song called "Now They Call it Swing", a song about how people think they've invented new music called 'swing' (in the thirties) but it is just ragtime re-imagined. I liked the frozen-in-time bit of musical history, when Swing was considered the upstart new kid on the block.

Holliday is a great vocalist, and it did give me a relaxed laid back vibe in the car the last two days, but I wasn't truly feeling it. It is almost like she is a bit detached from her own performance. It could be the very antiquated production, or it could be one of those infamous CDs made in the late eighties, where they were still perfecting the technology, and a lot of old music was tranferred poorly to the new format.

Or - I shudder to think - it could just be the nature of jazz - emotionally detached, and so overly clever, it can even suck the fun out of the brilliant Billie Holliday. Ah, Thelonious Monk, that you should prove to be the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

So Billie Holliday - competent jazz that has stood the test of time...but still jazz.

Best tracks: He's Funny That Way, Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, Now They Call It Swing

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