In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. That's especially nice in the case of Billie Holiday, who recorded excellent and essential work for Columbia, Commodore, Decca, and Verve. Since her signature numbers were also spread out over those labels, and since Ken Burns Jazz includes pretty much all of her best-known songs, this makes an excellent introduction and an even better single-disc retrospective.
Eddi Reader has proven her worth as a sublime singer of pop and folk material (and beyond), but this returns her full-bore to her Scottish roots. Born from the concerts she did at the 2002 Celtic Connections festival, it's a decidedly lush performance that hauls in several well-known Celtic names like Phil Cunningham, John McCusker, and Ian Carr to help her along. But it's Reader's rendition of Robert Burns' classics that's the key here. She picked familiar material, songs that have become part of the folk continuum that can be both a blessing and a curse. But she reinvents something like "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose," investing it with rich emotion. She positively flies on the more romantic songs, such as "Ae Fond Kiss," but she brings a surprising depth to "Charlie Is My Darling" and the chestnut "Auld Lang Syne," and "Ye Jacobites" sizzles with tension. The arrangements go for the cinematic rather than the intimate, putting them on the dangerous edge of new age. But such is the quality of everyone involved that there's no danger of teetering over and it becomes a tour de force. It is one of the highlights of Reader's splendid career, and even "Wild Mountainside," decidedly not a Burns song, fits in perfectly.