The Definitive Collection squeezes Billie Holiday’s unique singing history into a 22-song CD.
Pulling together tracks from seven separate labels, the disc concentrates on her polished mid-to-late 1940s stint with Decca Records, from which 10 songs are chosen. These include the quintessential torch songs “Lover Man” and “My Man,” the smooth 1946 best-seller “Good Morning Heartache,” and “You’re My Thrill,” an intricate Gordon Jenkins string arrangement.
Condensing the more elaborate and expensive 2005 box set titled The Ultimate Collection, the trimmed-down Definitive Collection retains Lady Day’s most famous titles: the anti-lynching “Strange Fruit,” her signature “Fine And Mellow,” the aching “Willow Weep For Me,” the autobiographical “Lady Sings The Blues” and the silky “Trav’lin’ Light,” a hit collaboration with big band leader Paul Whiteman.
One notable difference is the substitution of a 1956 recording of “God Bless The Child” in place of the 1941 Okeh label original; perhaps Holiday’s later bruised, raspy pipes convey a more contemporary sound. A career-spanning CD is not precisely synonymous with an artist’s greatest songs; taken from the swan song Lady In Satin LP, the compelling-but-ravaged “You’ve Changed” would not be ranked among her elite performances.
Sampling work with intimate combos, swinging bands and full orchestras, this collection gives listeners a wide-ranging introduction to Holiday, whose vocal genius triumphed in jazz, blues, popular and big band settings.