Eva Cassidy died of skin cancer in 1996, tragically missing the thrill of seeing her star rise stratospherically with the posthumous success of her Songbird and Time After Time albums. Her incredibly expressive voice and understated talent for playing guitar, coupled with her early demise, endeared her to all who heard her.
Six years and several album compilations later, a new album, Imagine, is released – but did we need another reminder that Cassidy is lost to us forever?
The compilation, put together by the man behind Songbird and Time After Time, begins on a vulnerable and mesmerising note with Cassidy’s take on the Buddy Holly standard It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. Armed with just her voice and an acoustic guitar, she instantly grabs the listener’s attention with her heartfelt interpretation and delicate performance skills. By the end of this song we’re acutely aware once more of a singular talent lost.
Just when we think that whimsical, dreamy folk ballads are to be the order of the day, up comes her take on Little Willie John‘s classic R&B hit Fever. With a chorus performance worthy of the greatest soul diva, but with a backing arrangement of percussion, vibraphone, bass and violin (played by Eva’s brother Dan), it sends shivers down the spine.
Next to savour is the similarly much-missed Sandy Denny‘s song, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, a timeless folk classic first aired by Fairport Convention back in 1969. Cassidy’s voice isn’t quite as Earth Motherly as Denny’s, but her powerful rendering of an overwhelming song hits the mark. Changing tack yet again, Bill Carey and Carl Fischer‘s smoky jazz standard You’ve Changed – covered by the likes of Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday – places Cassidy’s oeuvre in a quite different setting, showcasing her versatile voice over a piano and brushed-drum backing.
Elsewhere, the album’s title track is given an acoustic makeover which somehow sounds better than John Lennon‘s original. Early Morning Rain in Cassidy’s hands takes on Nick Drake-like qualities, while Tennessee Waltz brings to mind Indigo Girls and Joan Baez. The album’s final two tracks sum up Cassidy’s versatility beautifully. Stevie Wonder‘s supremely ’70s song, I Can Only Be Me, comes complete with backing vocals, and a powerful combination of piano and synth, while Danny Boy, most associated with Glenn Miller, ends the album in the quiet way in which it began.
The compilation does smack a little of dredging deep for material. But while it consists entirely of cover versions, Cassidy makes each of the pieces her own. In several cases she has achieved the impossible, by actually improving on the originals. Like Sandy Denny, Billie Holiday and John Lennon, Eva Cassidy’s immense talent deserves continued and repeated exposure.