October 4th, 2006
Many record collectors dream of getting their hands on that rare or previously unpublished work—only few are so lucky. Fortunately for Diana Ross aficionados, that day has come. From out of the blue comes the lost album (originally assigned catalog number Motown M749), simply called Blue. This was recorded on the heels of the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues, in which Ross gave a brilliant portrayal of Billie Holiday. It is unclear why this recording was never released, but it is a reminder of the immense talent and flexibility Diana Ross has demonstrated throughout her career.
Born in Detroit in 1944, Diana Ross is best known for her work at Motown Records as lead singer in the Supremes. Her unique voice and presence helped the group produce many #1 pop singles that are still played the world over. Her solo career post-Supremes also netted many chart toppers and currently Ross is still in demand as an entertainer. Blue represents part of a turning point in her musical life. Ross always admired Billie Holiday, but had to reinvent herself to play the jazz singer in Lady Sings the Blues. After intense study of Holiday’s music, Ross was able to adopt a sense of relaxed time and reflection, and the ability to smoothly caress the song lyrics. Blue is fascinating because Ross channels the spirit of Holiday from the past, and blends it with her own talent.
The album begins with “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” a jazzy tune that really allows Ross to become a reflection of Billie Holiday. What a difference an album makes! This once-pop diva now has mastered the smooth, laid back vocal styling of the jazz singer. Another track worth mentioning is Ross’s cover of the standard “Smile.” One of Billie Holiday’s most alluring qualities as a singer was her ability to transmit emotion through her music. In this arrangement of “Smile,” Ross displays how she can control her voice, bringing it from subtle to very present. Ross matches her musical emotion to the song’s lyrics: at first there seems to be subtle despair in her voice (“Smile, though your heart is aching/Smile even though it’s breaking”) and as the song progresses, there is a change in character to a more uplifting, positive vocal tone (“You’ll find that life is still worthwhile if you just smile”).
The liner notes by David Ritz are excellent, and he manages to tie the lives of Ross and Holiday together in a way that is succinct yet meaningful. The compilation producers’ notes provide details about the production of Blue and attempt to give credit to the musicians whose names were never written down during the 1972 session. The only thing that could possibly improve the notes would be the inclusion of the lyrics. Overall, Blue is a gem of a record. Ross captures the essence of Billie Holiday in a way that no one else can. She plays the part of the jazz singer so well, it’s hard to believe she was ever the pop diva most know her to be. Luckily for fans, we can now have a little piece of both sides of Diana.
Posted by Stephanie Fida