It's easy to tire of the endless supply of today's manufactured female vocalists with little in the way of true talent considering their voices are channeled through pitch-correction devices, but it seems impossible to tire of Billie Holiday's voice, one so stunning and arresting, it can completely surround the senses and leave the listener speechless. Holiday's style is captivating for a number of reasons, but first and foremost is that it wasn't simply a voice, it was an instrument in every sense of the word, something very few others could offer then, or since. What's here defies logic considering Billie's entrance into prostitution at an incredibly young age, a life riddled with various addictions, and finally a heroin overdose which caused her death at 44. Boasting 19 tracks and an hour of crystal clear sonics, Catfish again has delivered another superb addition with this Billie Holiday disc.
Laced with classic early readings, the incredible introduction to "Summertime" makes the CD worth its price, and once Billie's voice steps in over the funeral march, time means absolutely nothing. The dirge-like beginnings of "Strange Fruit" lead to one of the most memorable songs in the history of jazz or blues where Holiday sings with amazing conviction and utter brilliance of what can only be described as grotesque events:
trees bear strange fruit
"Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
Blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
The scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
for the rain to gather
for the wind to suck
for the sun to rot
for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop."
That should easily be enough to entice those unfamiliar with an artist who is perhaps the most captivating singer to ever stand before a microphone, but when "Romance In The Dark," "Love Me Or Leave Me," "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do," or "Georgia On My Mind" are also part of the set, it becomes essential. Billie Holiday's spirit lives on more than forty years past her death and why is vividly apparent in this set; she had a voice touched by God and guided by angels while being accompanied by a cast of superlative musicians who knew the importance of dynamics and how to perfectly complement a singer. The only shortfall is the complete absence of session details, but it's the voice that is front and center, which matters more. The Catfish catalog can be viewed online at: www.catfishrecords.co.uk where you can also check out CD's by Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and a bevy of others.
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order other Billie CDs
This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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