Though she did record one subsequent, posthumously released album, 1958’s Lady in Satin has long been considered Billie Holiday’s exit music. Its musical worth remains heatedly debated, one camp insisting it ranks among her best work, another decrying Holiday’s extreme vocal decay. Love it or lament it, there’s no denying its raw intensity, the synthesis of so much accumulated wisdom and pain.
Annie Ross has, at age 84, reached her Lady in Satin curtain. The once mighty playmate of Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks (with plenty of superb recordings of her own) is now a shadow of her former highflying self. The voice that definitively knotted “Twisted” and scaled the boppish heights of “A Night in Tunisia” has been reduced to a whispered croak, remarkably close in timbre to the late-career Elaine Stritch. And yet, like Stritch, there’s a hard-earned nobility in her tremulous sound, vestige of a life lived fast, furiously and well.