Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

If you consider popular music as a chronometer of history and culture, then take note of these box sets, respectively covering the early career of Billie Holiday and anthologizing the soundtrack to Ken Burns recently broadcast mini-series The War.

Billie Holiday -- Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles (Columbia/Legacy)

This four-disc anthology gathers 80 irrefutable examples of why Billie Holiday's recordings have been perpetually popular and consistently in-demand for over half a century. The contents -- all of which were gleaned from the Grammy-Award winning 10-CD Complete Billie Holiday On Columbia (1933 - 1944) -- boast every release from her seminal decade-long tenure on Columbia Records and their affiliated imprints: Brunswick, Vocalion, OKeh and Harmony.

Of course at the very core of this collection are her interpretations of timeless pop standards, commencing with "I Wished On The Moon," "What A Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Miss Brown To You" circa 1935 backed by Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra. Holiday soon earned credit as a top-bill bandleader and documented indispensable interpretations of "No Regrets," "Summertime," "Billie's Blues" and "A Fine Romance".

She would return to Wilson's veritable 'who's who' of instrumental talent -- featuring Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Ben Webster (sax) and Cozy Cole (drums) -- on "The Way You Look Tonight," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," "I Must Have That Man," "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me". Holliday then teamed up with Lester "Pres" Young (sax), Buck Clayton (trumpet) and a rhythm section of Walter Page (bass) and  Jo Jones (drums) to record "This Year’s Kisses," "He Ain’t Got Rhythm," "Why Was I Born?" and "I Must Have That Man," among others.

The remainder of her Columbia output is highlighted by Lady Day's torrent of torch songs and jumpin' jive that included: "Me, Myself And I," "Without Your Love," "He’s Funny That Way," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man," "When You’re Smiling," "You Go To My Head," "The Very Thought Of You," "Them There Eyes," "Night And Day," "Body And Soul," "Time On My Hands (You In My Arms)," "Let’s Do It," "Georgia On My Mind," "All Of Me," "God Bless The Child," "Am I Blue?," "I Cover The Waterfront," "It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie" and "Until The Real Thing Comes Along".

Lady Day: The Master Takes And Singles is accompanied by a liner notes booklet containing a 4,000 word essay from renowned jazz critic Gary Giddins. His insight places the music into a proper historical perspective and thoroughly complements reissue producer Michael Brooks'  detailed track-by-track annotations.


Various Artists -- The War: A Ken Burns Film (Legacy Recordings)

Those inspired and impressed by Ken Burns' latest documentary The War (2007) should take note of the companion CDs that offer not only the official soundtrack, but three additional volumes of music from the mini-series: Sentimental Journey: Hits From the Second World War, I'm Beginning To See The Light: Dance Hits From the Second World War and Songs Without Words: Classical Music from 'The War'. The volumes are available separately, or packaged as part of this four-CD box set. As an added incentive the anthology also contains a stunning 24-page essay by Burns himself that is surrounded by rare and emotive imagery from the period, plus a viewers' guide to the entire series.

As anyone who tuned into the PBS broadcast premier can attest, music was as much a part of The War as the intimate first-person narratives of the men and women whose lives were irrevocably altered by the historic events of WW II. Each story and subplot were specifically accentuated by sounds painstakingly chosen by Burns and co-producer Lynn Novick. Details chronicling their rigorous selection process can be read about in Burns' aforementioned liner notes dissertation.

Highlights on Sentimental Journey: Hits From the Second World War are the big band classics "We’ll Meet Again" (Benny Goodman & Orchestra with Peggy Lee),  "Little Brown Jug," (Glenn Miller & Orchestra), "I’ll Be Seeing You" (Tommy Dorsey & Orchestra with Frank Sinatra on vocals), "Memories Of You" (Louis Armstrong & Orchestra featuring Lionel Hampton on vibes), "Blues In The Night" (Cab Calloway & Orchestra), "Sentimental Journey" (Les Brown & Orchestra with Doris Day on vocals) and "Waiting For The Train To Come In" (Harry James & Orchestra with Kitty Kallen on vocals).

 I'm Beginning To See The Light: Dance Hits From the Second World War is chocked full of numbers guaranteed to keep your toes a-tappin' with "Frenesi" (Artie Shaw & Orchestra), "In The Mood" (Glenn Miller & Orchestra), "Taxi War Dance" (Count Basie & Orchestra), "The Sheik Of Araby" (Coleman Hawkins’ All Star Octet), "Pistol Packin’ Mama" (Al Dexter & His Troopers), "American Patrol" (Glenn Miller & Orchestra), "For The Good Of Your Country" (Count Basie & Orchestra), "Opus #1" (Tommy Dorsey & Orchestra), "Tuxedo Junction" (Erskine Hawkins & Orchestra) , "Boogie Woogie" (Tommy Dorsey & Orchestra) and "'Tain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It" (Jimmie Lunceford & Orchestra), among others.

Finally, as Songs Without Words: Classical Music from 'The War' would suggest, the contents are penned by some of the world's most renowned composers, such as Sir William Walton's "The Death Of Falstaff" (Leonard Slatkin & London Philharmonic), Antonín Dvořák's "Cello Concerto In B Minor" (Yo-Yo Ma & New York Philharmonic), Aaron Copland's "Concerto For Clarinet" (Benny Goodman/Aaron Copland Columbia Symphony Orchestra), Gabriel Fauré's "Op. 24" (Steven Isserlis & Pascal Devoyon), Franz Liszt's "Nuages Gris" (Barry Douglas) and the Felix Mendelssohn composition from which the CD's title is derived, "Song Without Words" (Yo-Yo Ma & Emanuel Ax).


Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist based out of the Piedmont of North Carolina. He's a  frequent contributor to All Music Guide, All Movie Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
All comments and questions are encouraged and can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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