Billie Holiday has always been a fascinating and captivating story for many reasons – she was a jazz singer of immense talent, an African-American women who rose to super-stardom … but then crashed and burned due to her own personal tragedy and ended up destitute and exploited to feed her addiction. She was more than ‘just’ a singer – her methods of interpreting melody and harmony were immensely influential in every field of music, both with vocalists and instrumentalists. There is not a singer today who doesn’t bear some influence from the woman Lester Young nicknamed Lady Day.
There have been numerous tributes through the years: Diana Ross famously portrayed Holiday in ‘Lady Sings the Blues’, she is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, has several songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame, was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and on and on.
There have also been a number of recorded tributes, retellings of her classic songs, and so on. This week we get a new one called A Tribute to Billie Holiday. The story on this one is that Swedish actor Peter Stormare, best known as the kidnapper from Fargo, loved the music of Billie Holiday as a child and wanted to bring the music he loved to a contemporary audience in as pure a way as possible.
The results are decidedly mixed, with a very ‘smooth and light’ feel to the music – whereas Billie Holiday sang in a way that got to the very depths of your soul. But the performances are solid and the vocalists put forth a solid effort. On the project are Shelby Lynne, Best New Artist Grammy Winner Esperanza Spalding, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Boz Scaggs, Rickie Lee Jones and others. The music tends to feel very much like a studio production and lacks the depth and communication of pretty much any classic Lady Day recording, but it is serviceable.
I don’t plan to review this recording, but my advice is to check out the Real Thing rather than this overly pleasant and unobtrusive collection. You can get the ’20th Century Masters’ collection for the same price, and if you want to dig deeper you can check out the two-volume ‘Billy Holiday Story’ CDs.
Most of the songs are pretty forgettable and the entire effort is largely underwhelming. Perhaps my favorite song from the album is the Esperanza Spalding reading of I’ll Look Around. This is entirely due to Spalding’s ability to deliver depth of interpretation in the vocals. I’ll let you enjoy the original and new versions of the song and decide for yourself!
Also, I’ll Look Around by Esperanza Spalding is the Amazon ‘Free MP3 of the Day’ for July 5th, so you can grab the song for free today only.