5 Stars *****
Obviously Mott the Dog does not know how angels sound like,
but he would not be disappointed if angels sounded like Eva Cassidy. Without
doubt, she is the female vocalist of our time.
It is one of the cruelest tragedies that Eva Cassidy never
lived to enjoy her success. In fact, with Cassidy’s natural shy personality
(yet strong character) that kept her from rocketing to superstardom in her
short life, she was never sure of her stage presence. She shunned the spotlight
till it was nearly too late, or preferred to sing backup vocals or duets as she
did on Chuck Brown’s wonderful album ‘The Other Side’, released in 1995,
which although is a Brown album, it is the wonderful voice of Eva Cassidy that
grabs your attention. Eva Cassidy refused to limit herself to one style, taking
on jazz, funk, blues, rock, pop, and folk, all with that ethereal voice,
turning each song into something magical.
Eva Cassidy released only one solo album in her lifetime,
the wonderful ‘Live at Blues Alley’ (1996). It was recorded in
Washington’s most famous blues club after which it was named, and then it
only got a local release.
It was one of the cruelest blows that by the end of that
year the dreaded cancer had whisked this beautiful girl with the heavenly voice
away from us. Fortunately for those of us left here on our very mortal planet,
Eva Cassidy left many recordings behind which are now being released to great
critical and commercial acclaim internationally. All of Eva Cassidy’s
recordings are lovingly managed by the Eva Cassidy estate. So far we had ‘Eva
By Heart’ (1998); ‘Songbird’ (1998); ‘Time After Time’ (2000);
‘Imagine’ (2002); and ‘American Tune’ (2003). These albums have sold
over three million copies worldwide and still counting.
It has to be remembered that Eva Cassidy did not write songs
herself, but was able to take other people’s great skills and twist them into
something even greater. At the moment (although I admit it does vary)
‘Imagine’ is my favorite Eva Cassidy collection.
The album opens with a solo version of ‘It Doesn’t
Matter Anymore’ by Paul Anka (who also wrote ‘My Way’, made famous by
Frank Sinatra, Sid Vicious, and then Nigel of the Bastards). This is followed
by a version of Little Willie John’s ‘Fever’, not done as Peggy Lee did
it in 1958, but as it was originally intended to be when written in 1956, with
Eva’s brother joining her, adding violin to Eva’s scratch vocal.
You also get a track that has been salvaged from the Blues
Alley sessions ‘You’ve Changed’, and when you hear this, you realize how
high the quality of music was on that particular album. Eva Cassidy’s voice
sends shivers up and down your spine. She would surely get a nod of approval
from the person who first recorded this song, the great Billie Holiday.
Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ gets
redefined here, giving the song a whole new lease of life. Eva even gets a
little bit country with her true to the roots version of Patti Page’s hit
‘Tennessee Waltz’, which in its days in the 1950’s was one of the first
crossover country/pop hits.
To finish the album is one of those “enough to make a
grown man cry” moments as Eva Cassidy breaks into an emotional solo version
of ‘Danny Boy’. Still, with all these moments of magic, I think the
standout track is the title track, a tribute to John Lennon in a touching
version of his masterpiece ‘Imagine’. Play this song in any room and in
seconds it will reduce people to silence as they listen to Eva Cassidy’s
voice caress the air.
It Doesn’t Matter Anymore
Who Knows Where The Time Has Gone
Still Not Ready
Early Morning Rain
I Can Only Be Me