Eva Cassidy – Simply Eva – Review
“Simply Eva” is the best look fans have at Eva Cassidy’s past and quite possibly her never-to-be future. The ninth album on Blix Street Records is an all acoustic “bare bones” look at one of the rarest of musical talents. Fans heartbroken over never hearing Eva Cassidy in concert will find this is as close as possible to experiencing a live solo song set. That’s the promise behind “Simply Eva,” and one that the album satisfies in abundance with the pure musical quality that Eva is known for.
“Songbird,” the Christine McVie cover, opens “Simply Eva.” Stripped of her trademark multipart harmonies, this sound reveals the basis for her charted (#54 UK) hit. This arrangement yields singing that is a shade more intimate.
A folk based version of “Wayfaring Stranger,” complete with Eva’s own picking style, is a highlight of “Simply Eva.” Sung with complete confidence, had this been the original release one might never have guessed that her musical insight would extend to the jazz (Wes Montgomery) based arrangement found on other albums. It is pared down, yet still very elegant and is testimony to her musical “dead aim” when applied to delivering a folk ballad. The last verse, “I am only going over Jordan,(softly) I’m only going over home” is sung as if she is telling her audience that she accepts the fate of a final journey.
A folk tempered treatment is applied to the gospel based Curtis Mayfield classic, “People Get Ready.” Especially for a solo setting, this is a more fitting approach. Eva’s strumming, like her singing, has a wonderful dynamic range disclosing yet another original arrangement of an otherwise familiar song.
The centerpiece of the album is a live version of Eva’s hallmark arrangement of “Over The Rainbow.” Taken alone, this recording is all the justification needed to purchase the album. In actual performances Eva asked the audience for quiet, suggesting they would be responsible for any slips. Here is Eva at her most vulnerable. Any mistake will be exposed, yet in this recording she is nearly flawless. For Eva, it truly sounds as easy as wishing upon a star.
Inclusion of Paul Simon’s ode to a far away love, “Kathy’s Song”, will be applauded by die-hard Eva fans for a more complete lyric, shortened in an earlier release. This version will be viewed by many as being meaningful to Eva personally, particularly with the verse which includes, “I don’t know why I spend my time writing songs I can’t believe.” This echoes Eva’s legendary insistence on musical integrity to her point of view; songs had to be ones she identified with.
Nothing less than a total musical make-over is applied to the blues standard, “San Francisco Bay Blues.” Cassidy’s diverse musical pallet could always produce the unexpected and here is proof. Blix Street President Bill Straw explains, “she cuts the normally frenetic tempo by half and delivers the blues within the lyric with passion and melancholy. Her own unique acoustic rhythm stylings slip around extended major and minor chords with the agility of Atlanta Braves switch hitter Chipper Jones.”
Of the remaining full length songs, “Wade In The Water” and “Autumn Leaves” deserve the most attention. For people who not only listen but nearly inhale Eva’s work, taking notice of the new arrangement of “Wade In The Water” is like examining a precious gem, one which always sparkled in wonderous color but only from one side. This recording shows what the song was like before she started to polish it and together with the later version offers a glimpse at her musical thought process from start to finish. The song, “Autumn Leaves,” is also a Cassidy triumph and deserves this bare solo musical snapshot.
The best is left for last, a short clip sung a capella of the song “I know You by Heart”. It is appropriate for an album which spotlights Eva’s solo talent to end with just the beautiful sound of her voice. This is pure “Eva magic”.
An irony of “Simply Eva” is that as much as it is a look at her talent in the past, it is also a glimpse into her known plans at the end of her life to sing folk music – at least for a period of time. Listen to this album and you’ll know that the path she intended to pursue would have continued to yield a musical insight that few musical artists will ever match.
A final side note about the quality of the recorded sound. The album cover was recently photographed atop the latest audiophile equipment at a major electronics show. Eva’s recordings have long been used to represent the highest standard in female Americana vocals. The quality of her voice on this recording will continue that tradition. Her voice and guitar sound crystal clear and are worthy test instruments for the most expensive sound equipment.
From Previous recordings: