I'm not one who usually goes ga-ga over the abilities of a vocalist. Production, bass lines, song-writing, melody, harmony... yes, yes, a thousand times yes! But I generally consider singing to be a necessary evil with a vocalist rarely eliciting any feelings other than passive ennui. And singers who don't write their own material... well, these people are usually lower than molds that grow on the soft underbellies of worms. Enter Eva Cassidy. You may have read about her, the woman who never aspired to a recording contract, content to sing in a club for a few or for many before her early death by cancer. During her short life her friends and supporters managed to convince her to record a handful of albums that were available in the local D.C. area. Songbird is a collection from two of these previously rare releases. The album opens with my favorite track, Eva's cover of Sting's "Fields of Gold", a version which reportedly made Sting weep when he first heard it, overcome by the sheer beauty and sorrow in her voice. This now silent voice has an unaffected purity and an astonishing ability to make every song, from standards to pop to jazz to gospel, appear to have been written just for her. Not only does she cover "Songbird" by Fleetwood Mac but traditional songs such as "Wade in the Water" and "Wayfaring Stranger." Even the standard "Over the Rainbow" is transformed by her soulful, unpretentious voice, taking the listener to a far away, magical land, leaving them stunned and asking "Judy who?" The arrangements and production on this album are nothing dazzling but always appropriate. In fact, many of the tracks are from the live album, but such simplicity underscores the richness of Eva's transcendent voice. Need something to sooth away the distractions of a hectic life? Discover the magic of Eva Cassidy and allow her gentle, silken voice to calm tattered nerves and transport you to an unexplored land.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, July 2001.