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Billie Holiday - Lady Day: The Best Of Billie Holiday (Columbia/Legacy)

You can always tell it's getting near Christmas when the millions of greatest hits and collections albums hit the shelves. Every now and then one will come along that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, and though this is not it (The Smashing Pumpkins win that award), it is definitely a must for any fan of '30s and '40s jazz music.

Billie Holiday's life may have been marred by tragedy, and she may not have had the best voice in the world, God bless her, but she could sing with such emotion and conviction that even the most dismissive ear had to turn and listen. Made up of two CDs, each with 18 tracks, we have here the choice cuts from the Billie Holiday ten-CD box set, also available on Columbia.

Lounge jazz and emotive blues compromise the bulk of the material and although it sometimes is a little dated you have to appreciate the history that comes with this music. Her take on George Gershwin's 'Summertime' is probably the strongest track on show with a great vocal performance by the 'Voice of Jazz'. Then there's everything from 'My Man' and 'Easy to Love' to 'Sugar', 'Night and Day' and the gentle and soothing 'Me, Myself and I'.

A vast and sprawling collection that works great as a stand alone album and also as an introduction to the music of Billie Holiday, this is a must have item for any true fan of American jazz. Or even for anyone who just wants something relaxing to throw on while they lounge in front of their fireplace.

Ken McGrath

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