A decade ago, I heard Eva Cassidy for the first time in an unlikely place. I was watching an episode of Smallville on television and as soon as the song came on, I started to ignore whatever was happening on screen. Cassidy was singing her version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Already a fan of the original, this version took it to a whole different level, and thus started my fascination with her music.
That one song was my gateway drug. Since then, I’ve picked up albums of hers here and there, always hungry for more. Cassidy’s album Time After Time still finds its way into my playlist at least once a week. Her versions of “Kathy’s Song” (written by Paul Simon and originally performed by Simon & Garfunkel), “At Last” (originally performed by Etta James), and “Woodstock” (originally performed by Joni Mitchell) haunt my mind on a regular basis.
It’s tough for me to describe the qualities of her voice in words. She was ethereal at times but always passionate, and has a tenderness and strength that sends chills down my spine every single time. There are few voices that do that to me on a regular basis, and Eva Cassidy’s is one of them.
As I began learning more about this singer, I was crushed to discover that she had passed away of melanoma in 1996 at the age of 33. Another life cut far too short. She had so much more to share with the world.
So, when I heard Blix Street Records was releasing an album of 12 acoustic Cassidy tracks, I knew I had to give it a listen. The album, called Simply Eva, goes back to the core of what she relied on: her voice and her guitar. And as always, I was not disappointed. How could I be?
There are some songs I’d heard before with broader arrangements, such as (Curtis Mayfield’s) “People Get Ready,” which appeared on Live at Blues Alley. And both “Kathy’s Song” and “Time After Time” appeared on her album Time After Time. But these are stripped down versions that really showcase her guitar skills as well as her amazing voice.
Though every track is amazing, I’m going to focus on three here that really moved me.
“Wade in the Water” is a classic gospel song where the singer just croons and is coupled with a simple pluck and strum pattern that takes the song to a bluesy place that simply rocks. Cassidy would fit right into a gospel choir with this one. There’s a spiritual quality to her singing that makes even this agnostic soul think twice. For years, my father played this song on his 12-string guitar (but wasn’t able to remember the name), which makes it all that much more personal for me.
Then there’s “Wayfaring Stranger,” which is a staple of the folk tradition. And once again, Eva Cassidy makes this an emotionally loaded song of cascading meanings. I wonder what she was thinking of as she sang, “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger/traveling through, this world of woe/there’s no sickness, toil nor danger/that bright land, to which I go.” For someone who left us with so much more to say, I hope she’s someplace like that.
And finally, there’s “Over the Rainbow,” written for the MGM classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Cassidy played with the arrangement a bit to make it hers. It’s a song of hope for the future: “Someday I’ll wish upon a star/and wake up where the clouds are far/behind me.” With a wistful quality in her voice, you truly believe that she hopes things will turn out for the best someday.
If you are a fan of Eva Cassidy’s, or simply are looking for some amazing acoustic folk with a voice that will leave you longing for more, I can’t recommend picking up a copy of Simply Eva enough. Give it a listen. She is missed, but she left behind an amazing legacy for us to enjoy for years to come.
Simply Eva is available to purchase this coming Tuesday, January 25, 2011.