Directed by Holly Andres. From Think Of Spring, out now on Anti-.
M. Ward has always been an interesting interpreter of older material. Solo and as half of She and Him, Ward has sprinkled in covers of classics and standards throughout his career. So it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that he’s doing a tribute to Billie Holiday. It’s a little quirky to cover 1958’s Lady in Satin album in its entirety, but why not?
At the end of her career Holiday wanted to record a “pretty album, something delicate” so she enlisted easy listening bandleader Ray Ellis to arrange songs to match her voice that by this point had been damaged by years of substance abuse. Ward forgoes orchestration altogether and sticks to vocals and guitar. And, not surprisingly, it’s lovely.
He talked to Rolling Stone about what drew him to this album: “I heard Lady in Satin at a shopping mall. I had no idea what it was. Her voice sounded like distorted electric guitar paired with these really beautiful string arrangements. It was like something I’d never heard. The whole experience was kind of like a dream. […] I’ve been arranging these songs for 10 years, recording them for a couple of years. I was experimenting with different tunings to get the songs right for my voice. I was just trying my best to take my favorite elements of Ray Ellis’ arrangements and it took a lot of time.”
Anyone expecting Rod Stewart-style songbook schmaltz will be disappointed.
Proceeds from the album go to PLUS1 for Black Lives.
From Lady In Satin (Columbia, 1958).