Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Billie Holiday + Lester Young

  • A Musical Romance [Columbia/Legacy, 2002] A+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

A Musical Romance [Columbia/Legacy, 2002]
Last year's belated twofer (four repeats) sums her up, and I should mention the 10-CD box--better completist Holiday than Sinatra or Fitzgerald or George Jones. The year's other reshuffles, Lady Day Swings and Blue Billie, are useful product. But there's never been a Holiday record I've replayed as spontaneously as this one. Nor, and this is connected, have I ever found her so credible uptempo (meaning midtempo, and fast enough). Her disdain for the trifles her '30s producers fed her can be bracing but also wearing, and while none remain trifles, some remain unnecessary. Here, that's not a problem. In love or in pain, she's smiling, she's swinging, she's dealing with it, dropping so little hint of the tragedies to come you wonder whether they were inevitable after all. She just needs the support of a man as hip and confident as Prez sounds--relaxed, savvy, off-center but that just makes him more fun. On no record, including the excellent Ken Burns, will you ever hear him so unmistakably. In real life, unfortunately, guys who play that often have a mean streak and/or a dependent side. You wonder why couldn't she make do with the worldly wisdom of Teddy Wilson, the friendly sarcasm of Buck Clayton. Because here, they too keep her smiling and swinging. A+