Billie Holiday & Ray Ellis and His Orchestra - Lady in Satin (1958), 3/10

I adore many of Holiday’s earlier performances, but unfortunately Lady in Satin repeatedly displays her in a lesser state. Right off the bat it is hard not to compare Holiday’s “I'm a Fool to Want You” to Sinatra’s rendition just a year prior, one clearly delivered with more nuance and beauty. Considering these are two of her greatest strengths, there is an obvious decline in quality at this late stage of her career in 1958. That is not to say that her voice is without original tone, intimacy and special qualities, just very clearly lacking in her former passion and vitality, even a painful lack of expressiveness. When the music demands such character, it falls utterly flat and motionless without it. There is an understandable poetry to her fragility not long before her death, but this does not heighten the inherent intensity or spirit that is lacking through practically every song. Her use of drugs and alcohol during the sessions makes a lot of sense and answers the question as to why she sounds the way she does here. If there was a palpable feeling of loneliness, sadness, or anything other than awkwardness for that matter, it could be truly great, but even Ray Ellis and his orchestra fail to bring much of anything to the arrangements. This ultimately results in a painfully dull and at times even desperate album. This desperation, ironically, at times creates a feeling of genuine despair that pairs well with the more placid orchestral workings, especially certain contributions from Urbie Green on trombone, such as his passages during “Violets for Your Furs” or “But Beautiful”. Billie has an out of place genuineness to her performance on this “Violet for Your Furs” in addition, making it one of the stronger tracks on the record. Regrettably, the rest of the latter half is a mess that integrates further disappointment. An unfortunately unsatisfying and unmoving record from one of the all-time greats.