Society always celebrates the records that top the Billboard 200 album chart. Back of The Billboards is a Music Times weekly segment that looks at the opposite end: the new record that finished closest to the back of the Billboard 200 for the previous week. We hope to give a fighting chance to the bands you haven't heard of. This week we look at Cassandra Wilson and her tribute to the discography of Billie Holiday, 'Coming Forth By Day.'
Week of 04/10/2015
WHO: Cassandra Wilson
WHAT: Coming Forth by Day
Cassandra Wilson, coming off a three-year recording break, returns to our ears with a tribute of sorts to one of the most alluring voices of the 20th Century in Billie Holiday. The current performer wisely avoids challenging her icon's renditions of jazz and blues standards, opting instead to take the singles best known by Holiday fans and reprocess them for her own vocal style. It would be difficult to label Coming Forth By Day as a Holiday tribute if Wilson herself hadn't told us that it was.
What the modern jazz vocalist does grasp, if not the color of Holiday's voice, is the understanding of her icon's ability to impress mood upon the listener via her vocals. Even those unfamiliar with Holiday's work will understand how she made "Strange Fruit" the horror story we understand it to be now. Although Kanye West opted for the Nina Simone version of the song on "Strange Fruit," her performance is colored by Holiday's legendary rendition.
Openers "Don't Explain" and "Billie's Blues" capture the essence respectfully. Her version of "Strange Fruit" leaves something to be desired...although that's because Holiday's recording leaves little room for new interpretation.
Part of the recording approach was to leave Wilson as much room to work as she needed, with the instrumental contributions staying behind a safe distance. Considering the talent she tapped for the project, it seems sad to relegate them so (even if it was the right choice, musically). Van Dyke Parks arranged strings while Nick Zinner (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and T-Bone Burnett split guitar duties.
We'd love to hear Wilson swing with that lineup.