Lady of Rough, Rugged and Raw
Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin has to be one of the toughest albums to appreciate. At the time she made these recordings (a year and a half before she left us), not only her health had suffered badly, but her voice had also deteriorated immensely. Both her chops and her vocals were gone with all the hard drugs she abused. All she had left was a harshing, tiring, and excruciating tone that was almost unlistenable, yet it was her personal phrasing that made the album deserved its classic stature. Right from the opening “I am a Fool to Want You,” we could tell that she was no longer interested in singing the tune. She stripped the melody down to its core of despair and expressed the lyrics like she was narrating her own unrequited love against the dead-slow orchestration arranged by Claus Ogerman and conducted by Ray Ellis. In the reissued version, which included alternative takes, the most unforgettable recording was the naked rendition of “The End of a Love Affair.” Her interpretation of the lyrics—”So I smoke a little too much, and I joke a little too much / And the tunes I request are not always the best / But the ones where the trumpets blare”—are as rough, rugged and raw as they get. She not only knew how a song should be articulated, but also knew how to breathe life into it.