In 1944, Mildred Bailey was getting back on track after a disastrous recording ban that held up her career as well as those of other jazz and popular music performers. Then things started going her way. Bailey was offered a radio show by CBS and, when Max Gordon opened his new Blue Angel jazz club, Bailey signed on with a trio headed by young pianist Ellis Larkins. She remained there until 1947. Baldwin Street Music has found several recordings from this period of Bailey's life, as well as a few with groups aside from the Larkins trio. Of the 22 tracks, three are previously unreleased and nine have never been reissued on CD. Bailey harbored a small feathery voice in a big body, which some say made her look matronly and therefore prevented her from achieving the popularity she deserved. Nevertheless, few could sing in as natural and unaffected a manner as Bailey could. A great admirer (and friend) of Bessie Smith, she was one of the few white singers who understood the blues as sung by the black masters of the genre, and this understanding is reflected in the way she developed and honed her craft. She was intense without resorting to being overly emotional. "I'll Close My Eyes" makes the listener feel privy to an intimate conversation that Bailey is having. Her version of "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine" rivals Billie Holiday's as the archetypical rendition of this classic. Of the tunes she cut with Larkins, "Can't We Be Friends" epitomizes the musical relation they built during the few years they were together. Larkins' work with Bailey presaged a career that made him a highly sought-after partner by singers, like Ella Fitzgerald and Sylvia Sims, whose voices were not that dissimilar from Bailey's. This album is typical of the excellence Baldwin Street Music builds into its releases. The sound is superior, the liner notes are interesting and intelligently written, and there's a bonus track with snippets of other releases from the label. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan