Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Billie Holiday: Ken Burns Jazz [Verve, 2000]
You won't be sorry if you spring for a matched set of two-CD sets: Lady in Autumn: The Best of the Verve Years and Columbia's belated Lady Day: The Best of Billie Holiday. But beyond a label-bridging perfection spoiled only by the unavoidable "Strange Fruit," the advantage of this disc is how vividly it establishes the organic unity of a career customarily bifurcated into girl-singer and fallen-woman phases. Early on she digs fibbing about the moonlight, while in the end she's too ravaged to fake how far fine-and-mellow has and hasn't gotten her. But in hindsight we can hear that her commitment to good times was provisional either way. That distance was what made her singing meaningful. What made it great was a musicality that instead of transcending pain affirmed its primacy. A+