Billie Holiday – Lady in Satin 1958
By 1958, due to years of alcohol and drug abuse, Billie Holiday’s voice had turned from something idiosyncratic and charming to something sinister and evil. In a way, her hardened voice has become more sensuous.
This was her penultimate album, recorded when her body was telling her enough was enough. During the sessions with arranger Ray Ellis she was drinking vodka neat, as if it were tap water. Yet, for all her ravaged voice (the sweetness had long gone), she was still an incredible singer. The feeling and tension she manages to put into almost every track set this album as one of her finest achievements. “You’ve Changed” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well” are high art performances from the singer who saw life from the bottom upwards. The CD reissue masterminded by Phil Schaap is absolutely indispensable. [Some reissues add two alternate takes of “I’m a Fool to Want You,” part of which were used for the original released rendition, plus the stereo version of “The End of a Love Affair” (only previously released in mono) and examples of Lady Day rehearsing the latter song, including a long unaccompanied stretch.]
On Lady in Satin, Holiday performs over the lushest arrangements of her entire career. In fact, it’s a very uncharacteristic move. She was one of the rare vocalists of the era to truly emphasize the “jazz” in vocal jazz. Here, the 40-piece orchestra is delicate and graceful, not unlike Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours. Overall, Lady in Satin has a very surreal quality, especially when the high-pitched choir drifts eerily from the background.
As mentioned, the LP most comparable to Lady in Satin is In the Wee Small Hours. They even share three standards: “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “Glad to Be Unhappy” and “I’ll Be Around.” Although In the Wee Small Hours is the better album, Billie Holiday seems more naturally inclined to handle the material. Sinatra’s voice is warm and pure, whereas Holiday’s is tormented. She’s better suited for these types of songs.
Sinatra would follow-up In the Wee Small Hours with the happy-go-lucky masterpiece, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers; one year after Lady in Satin, Holiday would be dead.
Composers: Frank Sinatra, Elise Bretton, Gene DePaul, Hoagy Carmichael, John Frederick Coots, Bill Carey, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Johnny Burke, Alec Wilder, Edward Redding