“Pickled in gin, sharing a needle with her junkie Chihuahua and barely able to hold a note, Lady Day was in big trouble by 1958” (Blender). Her “voice was essentially gone” (Yanow) “and although not yet 43, she could have passed for 73” (Yanow). “Her croaking voice had become almost unbearable to hear” (Yanow). “So she turned actress, falling back on her peerless way with a lyric and mining the contrast between fat string arrangements and emaciated vocals” (Blender).
The result is a “startling masterpiece rooted in tough times” (Blender) and “the most controversial of all Billie Holiday records” (Yanow). Although “‘Lady Day’ herself said that this session (which finds her accompanied by the Ray Ellis Orchestra was her personal favorite” (Yanow), “Ellis’ arrangements do not help, veering close to Muzak; most of Lady in Satin is very difficult to listen to” (Yanow).
However, her ability to “express the pain of life so effectively” (Yanow) meant that “many listeners have found her emotional versions of such songs as I’m a Fool to Want You, You Don't Know What Love Is, Glad to Be Unhappy, and particularly You’ve Changed to be quite touching” (Yanow), making this, at least in some’s eyes, a “classic jazz drama” (Blender).
Blender Magazine’s 100 Greatest American Albums (10/08)