In the U.S. as well as Europe, so many Billie Holiday collections have been available on CD that if you're exploring her music for the first time, it's hard to know where to begin. Assembled by Stardust in 2000, this two-CD set isn't recommended to beginners or novices. Anthology: 1944-1959 does contain some of Lady Day's important Decca recordings of the 1940s, including "Lover Man" from 1944, "Don't Explain" from 1945, and her heartbreaking 1948 version of "My Man." But most of the other material falls short of essential; in fact, the 1958 and 1959 recordings that Stardust provides underscore her decline as a vocalist and will only be of interest to completists. Spanning 15 years, this collection shows us how much her voice declined over the years. The Decca recordings of the 1940s find Holiday in peak form, and she is in generally decent form on 11 live performances that were recorded at Boston's famous Storyville in 1951. But Holiday's voice deteriorated rapidly in the 1950s, and she doesn't have much of a voice left on various performances from 1958 and 1959 (including four songs that were recorded at Storyville on April 20, 1959, less than three months before her death on July 17 of that year). Holiday was in her early forties in 1958-1959, but her voice was in such rough shape that she sounded like could have been 35 years older. Though the late-'50s material isn't without historic value, it won't appeal to casual listeners, who would be much better off with collections of the essential recordings that Holiday provided for Columbia in the 1930s and early '40s, Commodore in 1939 and 1944, and Decca in the 1940s. Anthology: 1944-1959 is only recommended to collectors and serious jazz historians.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2