by Faith Frenz
Released last December by Blix Street Records, the Eva Cassidy Nightbird two-CD set is remastered from the original tape recordings of her 1996 performance in the Washington D.C. Jazz club, Blues Alley. All 33 songs were one take live performances in that club on one night. The album includes 12 previously unreleased recordings, eight of which have never before been heard. The original Live At Blues Alley was released in the Spring 1996 just months before her untimely death.
I can’t remember exactly when I first heard her voice, but it was years after her passing at the age of 33 .Ever since my first encounter with her heart wrenching renditions of”Autumn Leaves,” “Over the Rainbow,” and John Lennon’s “Imagine,” I could never get enough. Her soul had found a place in my heart, and her personal interpretations of familiar favorites have grown deep roots.When she belts out “Chain of Fools” in the blues/rock style of Janis Joplin, whispers her pain in “Ain’t No Sunshine When You’re Gone” with her solo guitar, or in full-throated passion sings a fiery “Fever,” she is perfection. Her capacity to rediscover and then transform the familiar through her interpretation is a unique talent.The songs sound new because her voice unravels fresh emotions and discovers new meaning.
The diverse program of songs reveal the awesome musicality and emotional range of her voice. Her talented band supports her gifts with matched sensitivity to each song. They are bassist Chris Biondo, pianist Lenny Williams, lead guitarist Keith Grimes and drummer Raice McLeod.
Don Heckman, the jazz critic for the Los Angeles Times, first wrote about her in his column All About Jazz on June 29, 2001
Here is a quote from that LA Times column:
I first heard a Cassidy recording in 1998, when the small Blix Street label released “Songbird,” which included tracks from earlier albums released in the Washington, D.C., area. Both Cassidy and Blix Street were relatively unknown at the time, and–like virtually everyone else who heard the CD–I was astounded at the extraordinary performances. Cassidy sang Sting’s “Fields of Gold” in a fashion that literally brought the number to life; and her astonishingly intimate rendering of “Over the Rainbow” (which has recently turned up in a video version) gripped the soul of the song with an intensity not heard since Judy Garland premiered it in “The Wizard of Oz.”
“It’s hard to know, for example, whether or not Eva Cassidy would ever have been comfortable with the jazz singer label. Probably not, if only because her inherent modesty would have made it difficult for her to take on such an exalted mantle. That, plus the fact that her musical interests were too far-reaching to be limited to a single genre. Yet, when Cassidy chose to do so, she was capable of interpretations that had the elements of rhythmic swing, improvisational imagination and emotional truth that we associate with the jazz vocal art.
“Although her obscurity continued in the United States, her albums struck gold in the United Kingdom, quickly zooming to the top of the pop music charts. And when the BBC selected her among its “Voices of the Century,” Cassidy–who died of cancer in November 1996 at the age of 33, still known only to a small circle of local fans–finally began to receive some of the recognition she so richly deserves.”