In 1993, Washington D.C.-based singer, Eva Cassidy, had a mole removed from her back. Three years later, in September, she noticed an ache in her hips while performing. In November of that same year, Cassidy passed away at the age of 33, the melanoma having spread to her lungs and bones. At the time of her passing, Cassidy was unknown outside of her home state, where she was accustomed to playing intimate gigs attended chiefly by family and friends.
It is a cruel irony in the world of music that many artists happen to reach their commercial zenith posthumously. Cassidy epitomises this sad truth utterly, her music having touched listeners all over the world in the sixteen years since her premature death.
The Best Of brings together Cassidy’s best loved renditions and, all in all, it’s a beautiful affair, demonstrating through its inspired tracklisting just what a vocal talent Cassidy was. Opening track ‘You Take My Breath Away’ is a glorious ode to overpowering love, complete with gentle piano and guitar, combined with stunning vocal delivery. It truly is Cassidy’s extraordinary voice that underpins this as an essential collection for anyone’s iPod. This is perhaps nowhere as evident as it is on the seminal ‘Songbird’, a track which never fails to bring a tear to the eye with its beguiling declaration of love (‘And I love you, I love you, I love you like never before’) and its lovely guitar-based instrumental.
While it is true that ‘Songbird’ is a stand-out track, it is by no means alone. Other goosebump-inducing moments come courtesy of Cassidy’s interpretation of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’, a song the visibly weakened singer performed at her final concert just two months before she passed away. ‘Fields Of Gold’ also deserves its place as one of Cassidy’s most popular recordings; indeed, many would assert that her haunting reworking surpasses the Sting original.
Interestingly, though, this is not an exclusively slow-paced affair. ‘Wade In The Water’, for example, sits more than comfortably alongside the many ballads and, in fact, features one of Cassidy’s most impressive vocal performances. The light and shade of her delivery on the spiritual track showcases her range perfectly and makes you sit up and take notice with the raw power of her voice. The pseudo-religious theme seems to provide the perfect channel for the more soulful Eva Cassidy, as further demonstrated on ‘People Get Ready’, originally recorded by The Impressions.
Only those possessed of a heart of stone could fail to be moved by ‘I Know You By Heart’, a genuinely tear-inducing number, appropriately evoking memories of a loved one lost; ‘You left in autumn / The leaves were turning / I walked down roads of orange and gold / I saw your sweet smile / I heard your laughter / You’re still here, beside me, every day / ‘Cause I know you by heart’. Yet again, it’s all about that voice. No one else could perform the track with the same level of emotional intensity.
Released to coincide with what would have been Eva Cassidy’s 50th birthday, this is no run-of-the-mill greatest hits compilation. Firstly, there are absolutely no fillers; each and every track on the album fully merits its inclusion, all combining to form the perfect tribute to the majesty of Cassidy’s talent. We are prepared to concede that the emotional impact of the album is likely enhanced by being acquainted with Cassidy’s heartbreaking story; however, there is absolutely no denying the sheer beauty of Cassidy’s voice, nor the effectiveness of the stripped-down production and instrumentation.
Download it, sit on the sofa, close your eyes and drift away on a cloud of musical magic. What more fitting tribute can there be to a much-missed talent, who, despite not having lived to see the fruits of her labour, continues to touch the hearts of millions to this very day.
Go Get It: ‘Songbird’, ‘I Know You By Heart’
Forget It: None