God Bless the Child: The Very Best of Billie Holiday
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2007, Volume 14, #1
Written by John Metzger
In 1933, Billie Holiday was given an opportunity to record for Columbia Records. Although she made a pair of demos for the label, neither song managed to ignite her career. Merely two years later, however, while standing on the stage of Harlem’s fabled Apollo Theater, she became a star. God Bless the Child: The Very Best of Billie Holiday is the latest in a long string of retrospective packages to be devoted to Holiday’s work. With the exception of its title track, which not only opens the set but also arguably is her best-known composition, the collection proceeds in a chronological fashion. In culling material exclusively from her sessions with Columbia between July 1935 and February 1942, the outing dutifully follows her meteoric rise, thereby providing a solid (if not entirely complete) overview of her canon.
Composed of only 14 tracks, God Bless the Child: The Very Best of Billie Holiday skips Holiday’s noteworthy interpretations of Irving Berlin’s I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, George Gershwin’s Summertime, and the seminal standard All of Me, to name a few. It also fails to present her controversial song Strange Fruit, which surfaced on another label after producer John Hammond rejected it.
Nevertheless, God Bless the Child: The Very Best of Billie Holiday succeeds not only in capturing the complexity of Holiday’s emotional state but also in highlighting her distinctive vocal style. Her collaborations with pianist Teddy Wilson and his orchestra are well-represented by the swinging, seductive groove of My Man as well as the gentle devotion of Easy Living, and in both cases, there’s a haunted, melancholy air to her delivery that decidedly makes them bittersweet. Elsewhere, she pours all of the aching sorrow of her tortured life into the devastated refrains of Gloomy Sunday, and the autobiographical Billie’s Blues manages to exude anguish, determination, and steamy sexuality. Granted, there’s a lot more to Holiday’s canon that is worth exploring, but for the uninitiated, God Bless the Child: The Very Best of Billie Holiday is as solid an introduction as any.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box