In Bill Withers’ original rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” for instance, the heartache at his lover’s absence seems like a temporary situation: yes, she’s gone now, but like the dawn, she’ll be back to brighten up his day. The lack of sunshine, in Cassidy’s version, sounds like a more indefinite condition.
Not to suggest that Eva Cassidy’s music is intrinsically depressing or morose. Her performances realize depths of longing and regret in material that otherwise may have worn out its welcome or that have seemingly been done definitively by other artists. With songs such as “Imagine” and “Over the Rainbow,” which have suffered at the pipes of innumerable hacks, Cassidy’s voice conjures the despair that has left her yearning for a peaceful place that exists only in her imagination, or in some mystical, unattainable utopia. The need for another version of “Autumn Leaves” vanished at least as long ago as Edith Piaf and Nat King Cole recorded it, yet Cassidy’s resignation at the nearness of “old winter’s song” and the utter abandonment by her love makes the song sound not only as if it was written for her, but like it was from her own experience.
But any moderate talent can conjure up a moving rendition of “Autumn Leaves” or “Over the Rainbow.” The true test of a song interpreter is making a lesser song sound as if it belongs in the same repertoire as the venerable classic. While it remains to be seen if Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” Christine McVie’s “Songbird,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” have what it takes to be regarded as standards 50 years from now, they seem to lack the timeless qualities to last. It is to Eva Cassidy’s enormous credit that she invests a song as slight as “True Colors” with enough substance to fit among her time-tested classics. She even manages to render “Danny Boy” palatable, which is quite a feat in itself.