The first four years of Billie Holiday's recording career saw her progress from mere studio vocalist (possessing clear talent but rarely given the material or the space to show it on record) to the leader of her own orchestra and, through her association with Teddy Wilson, owner of the best reputation in vocal jazz. This excellent compilation from Allegro presents her finest material from this period, nearly all of it recorded between 1935 and 1937 with Wilson and an array of jazz luminaries including Lester Young, Ben Webster, Buck Clayton, Bunny Berigan, and Wilson himself on piano. Slightly sunnier early in her career than she'd become by the end of the '30s, Holiday rhapsodizes over a trio of Fields/McHugh chestnuts: "A Fine Romance," "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," and "I Must Have That Man." The compilers, however, ensured plenty of time for the darker side of Holiday's performing persona, including "Billie's Blues" and "Mean to Me."
AllMusic Review by John Bush