by S. Victor Aaron
Eva Cassidy had only one record released in her lifetime, a live document at a local club in her native area of Washington, D.C. She only sang covers, most of them overly familiar, finding them within the realms of jazz, Tin Pan Alley, folk, pop, gospel and blues. Her insistence on not sticking with one style blocked opportunities to be signed by record labels. Her recordings were never highly produced affairs. And though there’s about a dozen Eva Cassidy albums not released, the actual material not replicated amounts to only a fraction of that.
In spite of all this, her music is a compelling listen, because her voice is…well…simply pure and flawless. Soulful, powerful and nuanced. Never histrionic, never too hushed. And always perfectly pitched. She managed to bring something uniquely herself to each song she undertook, never changing any melodies, but she sang them a little differently than the originals. When you get done listening to a song you’ve heard a thousand times before done by Eva, you come away feeling you’ve heard it for the first time.
Out since January 25, Simply Eva is another collection of Cassidy recordings, many of which are tunes Cassidy fans are already very familiar with, including her signature song “Over The Rainbow” (reportedly the last song she performed in public before her death). But these tracks, culled from both studio and live performances all have a certain twist to them: they are performed without any accompaniment other than Cassidy’s acoustic guitar, or in the case of the brief closer “I Know You By Heart,” a capella.
With the audience noise absent from the live cuts, the tracks on Simply Eva, collected from several years of recordings, is intimate and coherent. Nothing gets in the way of magnificent voice, and if anyone were to find fault with it, they’d be more likely to find fault here. Good luck with that. No matter when she takes on gospel (“Wade In The Water”), pop (“Songbird”), blues (“San Francisco Blues”) or some sturdy jazz standard like “Autumn Leaves,” nothing feels out of place here, they’re all “Eva Cassidy” songs.
Cassidy’s fluid fingerpicking abilities don’t get mentioned much, but just listen to Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” and you’ll know she was no slouch in that department, either. “Time After Time” is delivered so flawlessly and profoundly sensitively, Cyndi Lauper must have cried when she heard it, because Eva had topped her with just one mike and one acoustic guitar.
Listening to Cassidy’s simply Eva makes me profoundly sad, too. Not just because Cassidy died of melanoma at the age of 33 in 1996, just a few months after her first album and years before she finally achieved due recognition around the world. No, because it’s just that beautiful.