Billie Holiday

The Incomparable, Vol. 4

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The fourth of five volumes on the obscure British label Acrobat, The Incomparable, Vol. 4 concentrates on the series of sides recorded by Billie Holiday at the dawn of her career, usually in front of a studio band and released on discount subsidiaries of Columbia such as Brunswick and Vocalion. Similar to Fats Waller and a handful of other musical greats occasionally forced to record subpar material, Holiday did surprisingly well considering the compositional sources, and certainly wasn't harmed by the addition of recording partners like Lester Young, Benny Carter, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Benny Goodman, and Teddy Wilson. This fourth volume has 20 tracks, including several of Holiday's best performances, such as "Strange Fruit" and "Fine and Mellow" (both sides of a single recorded for Commodore after Columbia's John Hammond passed on the overtly commentarial A-side). While much stronger than previous volumes in the same series, too much of this material consists of dated pleasantries that even Holiday has trouble rejuvenating -- check out "It's Easy to Blame the Weather" or "Ghost of Yesterday." Though everything she recorded will obviously be of interest to real fans, Columbia itself has collected these songs several times, with better notes and better sound.

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