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CD Review: Betty MacDonald 

click to enlarge (MacDee Music, 2008)
  • (MacDee Music, 2008)

Before the audience at Unison Arts Center in New Paltz for this live 2006 recording, Woodstock vocalist and violinist Betty MacDonald delivers a well-strung set of some of jazz vocalist Billie Holiday’s most venerable trademark tunes. Lady Day’s history and heartache become inspirational rainwater to “I Cover the Waterfront,” “Lover Man,” and “God Bless the Child.” On this, her third self-produced release, MacDonald as griot doesn’t sweeten Holiday’s life story. It wasn’t easy for an outspoken and sensible African-American woman to create and survive in the music business in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. But those attributes were the warp and woof of Holiday’s endurance.

MacDonald’s rendition of “Body and Soul,” unlike Holiday’s, which haunts and drags at the soul, has a wistful feel to it. But, more in synch and swing with Holiday, MacDonald, along with keyboardist Peter Tomlinson and bassist Jim Curtin, do up a medley that includes “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” (MacDonald brings out her violin for a sweet solo on the last). With every song, MacDonald bends with Billie, shading the difficulties of her time on Earth (1915-1959) with supple notes, notably in Holiday’s composition “Don’t Explain.”

MacDonald, who had performed Holiday’s music prior to this concert, elevates Tribute by never focusing on sounding like her, just sounding for her.

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