...if swing ain't your thing then Lady Day Swings is unlikely to be your favourite...
Niky Daley 2002
This album of songs from 1935 to 1941 comes from an era that some wouldn't necessarily associate Billie Holiday with: big band and swing. It'sa compilation from the start of her career when she recorded with many bands and most of her records ended up in jukeboxes. There are critics who have hailed this time as being trite with shoddy songs, and if swing ain't your thing then Lady Day Swings is unlikely to be your favourite album. However, there is an awful lot in its favour. For a start many of the songs are penned by pedigree lyricists such as Porter, Berlin, Gershwin and Kern. Yet even numbers such as ''I'm Gonna Lock My Heart'' by the less famous Eaton and Shand stand the test of time lyrically.
There are classics such as ''Let's Do It'' and ''A Fine Romance'' which unsurprisingly Lady Day does more than justice to and moreover we have maestro musicians to accompany her distinctively dulcet tones. In fact the record begins with fast and furious clarinet from Benny Goodman in ''What A Little Moonlight Can Do'' and as the music continues you will find Gene Krupa and Lester Young on the instruments that so rightly made them famous.
As the title suggests, the infectious swing tempo continues throughout, moving us along nicely through the 16 tracks. Evidently, from the tight togetherness of the playing here, these were accomplished show bands used to endlessly gigging. It's also worth remembering that this was the time of single-track, one take recording - no post-production here (not that you would need it). The light tone reflects Billie's life at this time: her heroin addiction didnt start until the early 1940s and this was before the first of her unhappy marriages. In fact you can just hear her beaming smile in ''A Fine Romance''.
Her voice, as it would remain, is as languorous as her phrasing, but the lyrics are clear and beautiful to listen to as she stays mainly within her comfortable mid-range. There are no heart-rending torch songs here, which she does like no other, but these are not vehicles to move the soul but more to enchant it.