“Why people tear the seam of anyone’s dream is over my head.” Billie Holiday’s life was shaken by clandestine, anti-jazz government officials who sought to disgrace the African American public image. The opening line on All or Nothing At All, sung acapella, creates the image of a single spotlight on her face—everything else silent and black, until the plush jazz bounces in. In that moment and countless others, she is not only singular, but unreachable. Holiday sung so differently to anyone else, her bending of vowels like a new language, her throat like a theremin. On a relaxed, guitar-heavy penultimate album, she exerted an incomparable craft.
A favourite: ‘Speak Low’