Here we have a typically swinging set by tenorman Scott Hamilton, the majority of which features songs recorded by singer Billie Holiday before World War II—her more carefree period, as mentioned in Bob Porter’s liner notes. Accompanied by pianist Tim Ray, bassist Dave Zinno and drummer Jim Gwin throughout—and joined by album producer Duke Robillard on acoustic guitar on “Them There Eyes” and “God Bless the Child”—Hamilton might as well be singing. His delivery is smooth, seemingly effortless and full of perfectly minted phrases.
Even though this is a concept album, Hamilton doesn’t try to inhabit Holiday’s style or mimic tenor icon Lester Young, her instrumental twin. The album opens with an easygoing “When You’re Smiling,” a title that portends the effect this and the remainder of the performances will have on the listener. “Foolin’ Myself” eases along in a lazy swing tempo, and then we have a smoky ballad reading of “Good Morning Heartache,” a song from Holiday’s postwar period. Next is “Them There Eyes”: medium-fast tempo, supple tenor phrases, cooking rhythm section and a driving, hot out-chorus. So it goes, joy in every performance.
The rhythm section has a light touch, with Ray offering economical, Basie-like accompaniment and neat lines along the way and Zinno walking percussively. Gwin listens and turns up the heat strategically.