Cassandra Wilson, “Strange Fruit” (2015): One Track Mind

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This brave song, written about the horrors of racism long before the Civil Rights movement, is given a different complexity through Cassandra Wilson’s dark new reading.

Though her take on “Strange Fruit” arrives as part of an upcoming Billie Holiday-themed tribute album, Wilson doesn’t echo the humbling original, so much as expand its violent tableau. Every line, every ageless image of an American lynching, is made real again.

It’s an emotional centerpoint of Coming Forth by Day, due April 7, 2015 via Legacy.

Cassandra Wilson, who will headline the Apollo Theater three days later, always had more in common stylistically with Abbey Lincoln than she ever did with Holiday — and that influence permeates this session. But ultimately, she’s her own woman, a vocalist of twilit poignancy who lures us into previously unknown worlds with every performance.

In that way, this is the best kind of tribute, one that reminds you of the song’s initial greatness, even as it opens up new vistas for the interpeter.

Cassandra Wilson is joined on “Strange Fruit” by a band that includes Bad Seeds bassist Martyn Casey and drummer Thomas Wydler, as well as Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner. Van Dyke Parks completes this update with a moving string arrangement for producer Nick Launay — the latter of whom has worked with both the Bad Seeds and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, as well as Arcade Fire and Public Image Ltd.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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