BILLIE HOLIDAY Lady In Satin (Classic) 

The penultimate album recorded by Billie Holiday, “Lady In Satin” seems as much a carefully assembled thematic work as Frank Sinatra was making for Capitol around the time of its 1958 release. The recording’s balance sounds a little off-kilter to me, Holiday sounding massive, dominating the centre stage, whilst Ray Ellis and his orchestra lurk in the distance, save for the occasional full-blooded brass solo. It gives her voice nowhere to hide, and although this is my first Billie Holiday album I doubt the wracked, cracked, ravaged and broken instrument she deploys here is the kind from which legends are made. That’s not to say for a second that she doesn’t pour herself into these performances, but, sounding slurred and floundering at times, she’s become a husk.

In such almost voyeuristic circumstances, the material chosen wields a painful poignancy. These are songs of thwarted expectation, desperate need and doomed hope. The titles tell all: “I’m A Fool To Want You”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “I Get Along Without You Very Well”, “You’ve Changed”, “Glad To Be Unhappy”. There are 11 standards of the American songbook here, but it’s no slight on material or performance that they might as well all be the same song.  The strange, gulping intonation she deploys during “You Don’t Know What Love Is” could be sobbing: she’s not singing these songs, she inhabits them. “Lady In Satin” deserves to be filed next to Sinatra’s misery albums, its influence extending even as far as unhappy modern day indie crooners such as The Czars and Mark Eitzel.

Classic have done their usual solid work on “Lady In Satin”. Labels and packaging do their darndest to emulate an original issue, whilst the sound on this 200 gram vinyl pressing is perfectly adequate, if somewhat thin and sibilant. It attracts a demerit only for the paper inner sleeve; usually the preserve of only the cheapest and nastiest modern day vinyl, it’s out of place in a premium product like this.