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Monday, February 13, 2012

Billie Holiday: Songs For Distingue Lovers


BILLIE HOLIDAY: SONGS FOR DISTINGUE LOVERS (1957)

1) Day In, Day Out; 2) A Foggy Day; 3) Stars Fell On Alabama; 4) One For My Baby; 5) Just One Of Those Things; 6) I Don't Know What Time It Was.

The second album released from the same sessions as Body And Soul, Songs For Distingué Lovers commands even fewer words than its predecessor. It also has fewer songs (just six titles), not to mention the exact same backing musicians, general attitude, and chronological set of songs — not a single one going back to anything later than 1943.

One single difference is that, on this particular batch, not a single track is a re-recording — all six were selected as brand new «expe­rimental» puppies for the lady to sink her (rottin') teeth in. But that only makes the album harder to assess on its own, since there is nothing to compare it to — unless we start seriously discussing what it is exactly that the lady brings to 'One For My Baby' that is so different from Sinatra's classic version. Well, just about the same thing that distingui­shes any other tune tackled by both Holiday and Sinatra — she's her, and he's him.

For some reason, when re-released fourty years later on CD, it was Songs For Distingué Lovers rather than the two albums around it that got the first privilege — with six more songs from Body And Soul and All Or Nothing At All tacked on as bonuses. Perhaps the Verve people thought the exquisite French epithet «classy», unlike the others; the fact that they even used it at all back in 1957 means that they were consciously trying to market Billie as «penthouse» music for rich romantic couples... which, to me, seems like cheapening the issue.

The arrangements — yes, all of them typically «penthouse» arrangements; but the idea of «spiritually enjoying» Billie sing with half-drawn shades, a glass of Bordeaux, and a «that special someone» in an evening dress seems rather cheap and, in any case, much too stereotypical for a singer as dismissive of stereotypes as Billie. Above all else, all of these songs reflect pain, and it is rather hard to enjoy pain, let alone with a glass of Bordeaux (although, come to think of it, a big enough glass could make it easy to enjoy anything). Even though there is nothing even remotely close in spirit to a 'God Bless The Child' on Songs For Distingué Lovers, all of these songs — never mind the syrupy or corny lyrics — are delivered in Billie's usual late-period ragged tones, and these tones are not «enjoyable»: they are «experienceable», and, as such, do not really re­quire any additional settings, substances, or seductions.

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