Billie Holiday – Songs For Distingué Lovers – Acoustic Sound Series

by | Jul 23, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Universal Music Group and Acoustic Sounds release a vintage Billie Holiday album.

Billie Holiday – Songs For Distingué Lovers – Verve Records MG VS-6021 (1958)/Universal Music Group B0036831-01 (2023) Acoustic Sound Series 180-gram stereo vinyl, 33:04 ****1/2: 

(Billie Holiday – vocals; Harry Edison – trumpet; Ben Webster – tenor saxophone; Jimmy Rowles – piano; Barney Kessel – guitar; Red Mitchell – double bass; Alvin Stoller – drums; Joe Mondragon – double bass; Larry Bunker – drums)

There are just a few iconic jazz singers. Ella Fitzgerald (“Queen Of Jazz”) was noted for tonal purity, jazzy intonation and versatility. Sarah Vaughan (“The Divine One”) amazed fans and critics with her operatic four-octave range. And then there was Billie Holiday (“Lady Day”). The Harlem-based singer brought a level of sophisticated improvisation and plaintive vocal resonance to her craft. Songs like “Strange Fruit”, “God Bless The Child”, “Good Morning Heartache” and “Lover Man”became part of the American musical legacy. Holiday was comfortable performing with small jazz ensembles and larger orchestras. Fellow musicians from all eras hold her in great esteem.

Universal Music Group (as part of the Acoustic Sounds Series) has released a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of the 1958 Verve album, Songs For Distingué Lovers. Holiday is backed by a stellar group of jazz players, including Harry “Sweets:” Edison, Ben Webster, Barney Kessel and Red Mitchell. This is quintessential Lady Day letting her heartfelt emotion infuse classic standards. Side One opens with the jaunty, “Day In, Day Out”. Holiday’s voice is mature and brushes on lower register, but the lilting vibe is there. Edison solos first on muted trumpet, maintaining the medium-swing groove. Kessel follows on guitar with crisp articulation before handing it off to Jimmy Rowle’s lyrical piano. Then, Webster’s muscular saxophone takes over. When Holiday returns, she improvises with trademark vocal flourishes. This is a monumental pairing of a great singer with a great band. Switching gears, “A Foggy Day” starts out in ballad mode as Holiday injects her winsome ambience. Then, the jam shifts to up tempo with Rowles and Kessel offering vibrant solos. Edison (who also plays counterpoint to Billie) and Webster bring a jazzy swagger. Holiday’s unique relaxed vocals with subtle modulations are compelling on “Stars Fell On Alabama”. The arrangement is more bluesy, and Webster’s vibrato-laced solo is soulful. Drummer Larry Bunker sustains an understated rhythmic pulse. 

Side B is equally magnetic. Holiday’s languid take on “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” rivals Sinatra for its glowing warmth and atmosphere. Holiday’s phrasing and vocal intonation is agile and moving. Both Edison and Webster play adroitly against the singer. Very few vocalists could distill the late night melancholy of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer with this level of authenticity. Picking up the pace, Holiday breezes through Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things”. Rowles contributes a sprightly run before Kessel’s punctuated solo. Edison again swings on muted trumpet and Webster is icy cool. Holiday’s connects to the melody and lyrics, utilizing her voice instrumentally. As this album embraces The Great American Songbook, it seems that a Rodgers and Hart tune (“I Didn’t Know What Time It Is”) is an appropriate finale. Holiday’s winsome eloquence is noteworthy and the soloists fit the mood perfectly. 

This re-mastered vinyl (Chad Kassem/Acoustic Sounds reissue supervisor and Ryan Smith/Sterling Sound mastering) is top notch. Holiday’s voice is tender and sumptuous, always centered in the mix. The stereo separation is flawless (kudos to the original recording engineering). The glossy gatefold packaging is superior. This album is a must for vinyl aficionados and jazz lovers. 

—Robbie Gerson

Billie Holiday – Songs For Distingué Lovers

Side One:
Day In, Day Out;
A Foggy Day;
Start Fell On Alabama

Side Two:
One For My Baby (And One More For The Road);
Just One Of Those Things;
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.   

More information through Acoustic Sounds

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Album Cover for Billie Holiday Songs for Distingue Lovers

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