Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.
The better copies reproduce clearly what to our minds are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, the are reproduced properly balanced with one another.
The monos, as you might expect, balance the three elements well enough, but the problem with mono is that the vocals and instruments are jammed together in the center of the soundfield, layered atop one another.
Real clarity, the kind that live music has in abundance, is difficult if not impossible under the circumstances. Only the stereo pressings provide the space that each of the elements need in order to be heard.
Naturally the vocals have to be the main focus on a Billie Holiday record. They should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and transparent. To qualify as a Hot Stamper, the pressings we offer must be highly resolving. You will hear everything, surrounded by the natural space of the legendary Columbia 30th Street Studio in which the recording was made.
Ray Ellis on Billie Holiday
Ray Ellis said of the album in 1997:
I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You”. There were tears in her eyes… After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.
Nat Hentoff, reviewing her Carnegie Hall concert for Down Beat, wrote:
The beat flowed in her uniquely sinuous, supple way of moving the story along; the words became her own experiences; and coursing through it all was Lady’s sound – a texture simultaneously steel-edged and yet soft inside; a voice that was almost unbearably wise in disillusion and yet still childlike, again at the centre. The audience was hers from before she sang, greeting her and saying good-bye with heavy, loving applause. And at one time, the musicians too applauded. It was a night when Billie was on top, undeniably the best and most honest jazz singer alive.
Lady in Satin was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.
I’m a Fool to Want You
For Heaven’s Sake
You Don’t Know What Love Is
I Get Along Without You Very Well
For All We Know
Violets for Your Furs
It’s Easy to Remember
Glad to Be Unhappy
I’ll Be Around
The End of a Love Affair
This is the most controversial of all Billie Holiday records. Lady Day herself said that this session (which finds her accompanied by Ray Ellis’ string orchestra) was her personal favorite, and many listeners have found her emotional versions of such songs as “I’m a Fool to Want You,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Glad to Be Unhappy,” and particularly “You’ve Changed” to be quite touching…
It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally fine but with somewhat low-rez vocals and lacking in both space and warmth. Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.
A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record playing on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.
We don’t care what the label is. We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.
This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.