Monday, July 5, 2010

Eva Cassidy

Like so many my first introduction to Eva Cassidy was through the grainy black and white promotional video shown on BBC's Top of the Pops 2 (around 2000). This was shot in a small club (Blues Alley) in Washington DC and showed Eva performing "Over the Rainbow". I found her performance absolutely riveting and though I rarely weep, the tears were flowing down my face long before the song was completed. Indeed I remember it as one of those special moments - never to be forgotten - when I was deeply touched by beauty in the form of a truly unique female singing talent.

When I then dicovered the treasure trove of some of Eva's best recordings on "Songbird" my initial impression was only enhanced through the marvellous interpretations of other songs such as the title track "Songbird", "Fields of Gold" and "I Know You by Heart".

And it soon became readily apparent that not alone could Eva interpret romantic ballads in an exquisite manner but that she was equally home in a wide variety of genres including blues, gospel, folk, jazz and country.

Despite the limited amount of recorded material that she had left by the time of her untimely death from cancer in 1996, I would say that quite simply she is the best female popular singer that I have every heard. There are others that perhaps I would put ahead with respect to pure quality of voice e.g. Jo Stafford and Karen Carpenter, but in terms of overall talent and ability to truly connect emotionally with a song, if Eva has any superior, I have yet to hear her.

Then it is only by sheer accident that she ever came to the notice of the wider public. During her lifetime she was scarcely known outside her native Washington and struggled to make an impact in the commercial world. Happily, however though enjoying no great success on their initial release she did manage to complete a few albums with a number of other recordings. After her death some of the best of these were released on "Songbird" which later came to the notice of the producer on Terry Wogan's hugely popular morning BBC radio. So it was this show that really brought Eva Cassidy to the wider public and the rest - as they say - is history.

However one might validly ask as to how such a wonderfully talented singer failed to make any real headway during her own lifetime. It is certainly a bad reflection on the commercial world that the very qualities i.e. sincerity and true authenticity that uniquely define Eva Cassidy's singing were likewise the same factors blocking recognition amongst a wider public.

Unfortunately nowadays success is largely based on synthetic marketing values collectively consumed by a mass - and often undiscerning - audience. So what is unique does not fit in with this shallow philosophy.
Indeed popular music has largely died a death in terms of producing anything of true originality or lasting value. Instead we witness the endless promotion of TV manufactured pop stars attempting to be ever better clones with respect to material that has already achieved popularity through other artists.

To her eternal credit Eva Cassidy was true to her own vision refusing to fit in with the conventional marketing approach.

In one way she paid a very high price. However through a fortunate twist of fate some fans did properly recognise her unique talents and preserved her legacy eventually enabling a wider rediscovery after her death.
Now many can see that it is the very truth through which she acted as an artist that now above all else gives these precious recordings a special value in their unerring ability to communicate directly with the human heart.

A great artist succeeds in producing great art; and in the realm of popular music this precisely is what Eva Cassidy has achieved.

Best Recording

I would have to pick her studio recording of "Over the Rainbow" which still moves me greatly on each hearing. Also it is beautifully produced (despite being a relative unknown).

If I had been asked before hearing Eva to give just one example of the definitive recording of a song by an artist, I would have nominated Judy Garland's version of "Over the Rainbow".

Now having heard Eva Cassidy's version I have changed my mind! Yes! it is really that good.

Other Favourite Recording

There are several that I could choose. However one that I especially like is "Penny to My Name" which was not included on "Songbird".

Here Eva is in country mode singing a song that was especially written for her which she performs superbly. Emotions of longing and frustration are directly conveyed to the listener fitting perfectly the story in the song (where every word can be clearly heard).

To me this is country singing at its very best! But then again no matter what the genre Eva Cassidy reigned supreme.