Songbird 20

Eva Cassidy

Blix Street Records , 2018

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


There’s a common game among music fans (and other fans, for that matter) that I like to call “What If”? What if Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix or Amy Winehouse or John Lennon hadn’t died? What would they have produced? What would they have become? What did we miss out on?

Well, I play “What If?” too. But my chosen speculations aren’t what most people say. If I had three What Ifs to change -- three artists whose music was cut too short -- they rank like this:

3. Nat King Cole
2. Jim Croce
1. Eva Cassidy

And at that last name, most people would scratch their heads and go, “Who?”

So here is the sad story of Eva Marie Cassidy. She was a singer with a gorgeous, emotive voice, who was a fixture in the Washington, DC music scene in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. She recorded a few albums, almost exclusively of covers, and was a regular fixture at live performances; at various times, she was a part of multiple projects with multiple styles, ranging from jazz standards to folk to techno. She won Washington Area Music Awards.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And oh, that damned voice. Elegant, supple, soft, smooth, rough, delicate, powerful. She could break your heart with two lines. She made good songs better (her cover of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold” is breathtaking), great songs greater (Nat King Cole’s “Autumn Leaves”), and mediocre songs breathtaking (Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”). It’s all about the voice; arrangements are usually simple, one or two instruments accompanying her.

And then, in 1993, she had a malignant mole removed from her back and didn’t go to her follow-up appointments.

And then, in July of 1996 she noticed a pain in her hip. It turned out to be a fracture, stemming from bone cancer.

She died on November 2.

Fast forward to 1998. The BBC starts playing tracks of Songbird, a posthumous compilation. “Top Of The Pops” plays a video of Cassidy singing “Over The Rainbow”. ABC’s Nightline does a story on her. And suddenly, Songbird is a six-times platinum album in the UK and a gold album in the US. Five of Cassidy’s albums occupy the Amazon Top Five in one week. And we realize what we lost.

Songbird 20 is a remastered re-release with additional acoustic tracks. It’s an improvement over the original in terms of production and content, but very little could improve the original musicianship. Look, I hate the song “Over The Rainbow,” but I can listen to Cassidy’s version and enjoy it. (One of only two versions I can say that about -- the other being Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s.)

I really don’t have a way to summarize this. Eva Cassidy was magnificent. We lost her. Listen to her music.

No, wait, I do have a way.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: "It might have been!" 
-- John Greenleaf Whittier


Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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