Billie Holiday’s 1958 Columbia Records release Lady in Satin was produced by the legendary Irving Townsend and is built around the fragile, raspy but no less incredible voice of late-career Holiday and a 40 piece orchestral arrangement. How then do we compare M. Ward’s single acoustic guitar homage to Holiday’s penultimate album? The answer is, we don’t. That would be an exercise in futility.
M. Ward’s Think of Spring is the culmination of a life long love of Holiday: “I first heard 'Lady In Satin' in a mega-shopping mall somewhere in San Francisco. I was about 20 years old and didn’t know much about Billie’s records or her life or how her voice changed over the years. Anyway, the sound was coming from the other side of the mall and I remember mistaking her voice for a beautiful perfectly distorted electric guitar - some other-world thing floating there on this strange mournful ocean of strings and I was hooked for life.”
Recorded on an analogue Tascam four-track with minimal studio manipulation, Think of Spring gives a different, morose and distinctly Americana slant to those original, raw, heartbreaking bluesy numbers. The cleanliness of Ward’s approach, the soft intimacy of his voice, gives focus to the lyrical content and allows for a playful, wryly self-aware tone. Messing around with new tunings and deconstructing Holiday’s fraught and beautiful record, Think of Spring is definitely the sound of a fan having some fun.
It’s a charming listen, rich in intricacies and possessing a deep warmth and reverence for the original material. Musically, it’s not going to change the world but practically it might as all proceeds from Think of Spring will benefit Inner-City Arts & Donors, providing life-changing experiences for underserved communities and young kids in LA. Plus, if it introduces more people to Billie Holiday’s work then the world’s already a slightly better place.