Billie Holiday All or Nothing at All Verve (1959) Since the release of her 1997 breakthrough single On and On, Erykah Badu has often been compared with a giant of jazz song: the late Billie Holiday. As well as not being a bad way for anyone to start a career, the juxtaposition is apposite. Both women share much, not just in terms of the timbres of their respective voices, but in their referential approaches and the emotional effect of their output. Taking her cues from Holiday, Badu's vocal style achieves a cohesive yet contradictory blend of strength and fragility; as seen in her recent work she also possesses a similar ability to flit from the accessible and straight-ahead to the darkly avant-garde - sometimes within the space of a single verse.
Nowhere does Holiday better lay down this template than on the 1959 album All or Nothing at All. In contrast to her starkest, most personal work (Strange Fruit, Lady Sings the Blues) this collection finds her in what initially appears to be mainstream mode, interpreting standards by Irving Berlin (Cheek to Cheek, Say It Isn't So), George and Ira Gershwin (But Not for Me, Our Love is Here to Stay) and Kurt Weill (Speak Low). However, for all the familiarity of the material, not to mention Holiday's versatility, she brings a telling weight of experience to these songs, teasing irony, melancholy and pain from even the summeriest, most optimistic of lyrics. And, as ever, when she sings of love, her words ache like a barely healed bruise.
* The Review