Nostalgia Buff | Studio City, CA United States | 02/23/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a poignant and at times terrifying album.Billie,reunited with Ray Ellis of "Lady in Satin" lays down her soul and offers a multi-dimentional glimpse into the private anguish of a transcendental artist. At the time of these recordings(March,1959), Billie had less than 5 months to live and her voice reflects years of physical and emotional abuse(some self-inficted). It doesn't matter. Her ability to transcend lyrics and infuse songs with feeling are never more apparent. At times her voice wavers and she struggles for breath, but her soul shines through. These are some extremely moving tracks.Ray Ellis' orchestration is less cloying than in "Lady In Satin" and have more of a jazz feeling. Particularly moving are "Don't Worry About Me","I'll Never Smile Again" and "All The Way". This is not the Billie of Columbia or Decca days. The voice has deteriorated to an ember of what it was. But Billie was always known as an artist with an uncanny ability of wearing her soul on her sleeve and the deterioration of her voice only crystalizes how effective she was in conveying feeling. This is one of the most indispensable albums in my collection. A moving and at times heartbreaking glimpse into the soul of one of the 20th Century's greatest interpreters of song. Don't miss it!"
Decent testament, solid 1950's Billie
Samuel Chell | Kenosha,, WI United States | 08/01/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Recorded a couple of months before Billie's passing and more than a year after the elegaic if not depressing "Lady in Satin," "Last Recordings" is not the death rattle that the jazz press has portrayed it to be. Granted, the voice lacks corporeal substance proportionate to Billie's dimininished body weight, but she's fully on top of phrasing and lyrics--moreso than on "Lady in Satin." Although "There'll Be Some Changes Made" seems less than an inspired song choice, all the tunes find Lady Day in good form, first with a small group featuring Al Cohn and Harry Edison, and second with the lush orchestral textures provided by Ray Ellis. The latter selections have a notably different audio quality from the small group, primarily due to exaggerated stereo separation and excessive reverb. Whether the idea was to enhance Lady Day's voice or cover up weaknesses, it no doubt had the opposite effect. Leonard Feather's notes about the session--including Billie's physical appearance ("She walked into the studio statuesque and sharp as ever")--are, as usual, both edifying and engaging. One wishes more listeners would take the time to read them, as they provide a compelling "portrait of the artist as an older woman.""
The last hurrah of a great artist.
Boz | 06/30/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This vastly underrated album brings us Lady Day in her sad final years. The voice may be ragged but all of her power and passion are still there. No one before or since could express the deep emotions of a song like "All the Way" and make us feel them. She has lived these lyrics and we know it. For anyone who is interested in real expression of emotions, I recommend this album."
Voice and health diminished, Billie was still a great singer
D. Hofkin | 02/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I must correct another reviewer, who suggested that Billie was an "older woman" at the time of these, her final studio recordings made four months before her death. To (mis-)use a lyric from a song she interpreted so well, while Billie certainly sounds old, it's easy to forget (and frightening to remember) that she was just shy of her 44th birthday at the time.
Nevertheless, her interpretations of these songs are absolutely stunning. She had, by this time, been worn down to the bare minimum, and listening to these songs can be difficult, given her choice of songs, our understanding of what she had been through, and the inevitable comparisons to her earlier years. But the fact of the matter is that, putting all of that aside, she still at this point was able to extract the essence of a song and put it across like no one else except perhaps Frank Sinatra.
It is interesting to note that, on this album as well as her previous "Lady In Satin", she chose songs she had never recorded before. Perhaps she was trying to avoid the aforementioned comparisons people would make to her earlier years when her voice soared seemingly effortlessly like a horn. Or perhaps she simply wanted to do something different and liked these songs, some of which were relatively new at the time.
While Frank Sinatra's recordings for Capitol of "All the Way", "I'll Never Smile Again", and "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" are certainly difficult to match, I think Billie comes close to doing so. On the other hand, her reading of "It's Not For Me To Say" handily beats Johnny Mathis's overly mawkish reading. And she makes "Just One More Chance" completely her own. The more up-tempo numbers are excellent as well.
Bottom line: While Billie was not the same singer as she was 10+ years earlier, one does not have to make excuses for her to find her later work very worthwhile. This album is certainly no exception and represents some of the best of her late work."
A poignant ending
Don O. | Canada | 07/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is Billie Holiday's last recording, made in March 1959, a little over a year after "Lady in Satin" was completed. This final studio date with Ray Ellis, who had earlier written the charts for "Lady in Satin," seems to rise out of the doldrums conveyed previously in "...Satin." Indeed, the first six tracks are sung and played in an optimistic, bright tempo. Even the bittersweet sentiment of "You Took Advantage of Me" and "Sometimes I'm Happy" is masked by a swinging horn section. The solos by Gene Quill (alto sax), Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), and Jimmy Cleveland (trombone) complement Holiday's impeccable timing and phrasing. The string arrangements are less lush than in "Lady in Satin" and thus, do not pull you into an emotional spin. Billie's bright rendition of "'Deed I Do" seems to wash out the gloom in the previous album. That's where the optimism ends. "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" brings back the Billie Holiday that fans know very well: a great singer with a sad story to tell. Listen to her sing; you could peek into her soul and see the anguish there. Only Frank Sinatra and The Four Freshmen can do an equally great job on this song. As if that wasn't enough, she goes on with "All The Way" [one of Sinatra's signature songs], "Just One More Chance" and "I'll Never Smile Again." The album ends with a jaunty arrangement of "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" as if to lift you out of your own doldrums. You will find yourself snapping your fingers and then before you know it, the song ends. So does the album. Then you realize this is Billie Holiday's last recording: a beautiful, poignant ending to her great but tragic career."