Eva Cassidy,
(Blix Street, 2016)

In 1996, Eva Cassidy, a Washington, D.C., singer, cut a live album at Blues Alley in downtown D.C.. At that time, Cassidy was already ill with the cancer that would take her life. Her friend and fellow singer Grace Griffith took Cassidy's album to the record company she recorded for, Blix Street, and the company was so carried away, they made moves to sign Cassidy immediately. It was too late.

However, Bill Straw, the president of Blix Street Records, released a compilation album of all of Cassidy's best tracks. For two years, the album did very little but then it somehow exploded in England, then in the United States, and Eva Cassidy, just a few years after her death, was a major star. Her entire catalogue, now 11 or so albums, has been issued after her death.

Nightbird is the most recent and, while the cynical among you might think of it as an attempt to squeeze one more round of profits from a dead woman's work, please let me disabuse you of that notion. Nightbird is a valid and essential release, a significant contribution to Cassidy's body of work.

Since the Live at Blues Alley record was released on vinyl, there wasn't playing time on the disc for the entire concert. Cassidy and Chris Biondo, the producer, had to select from the total work and commit just a portion of the show to the album. Nightbird is a two-CD set that contains the entire concert, every song, every note played and sung. Now, for the first time, we can hear the full range of Cassidy's magnificent voice and the full range of her amazing range and talent.

The woman could do anything -- jazz, rock, blues, pop, folk -- in her career she even cut an album of duets with Chuck Brown, Washington's king of gogo music, but she backed rappers vocally. Then she can bring tears to your eyes with her version of "Over the Rainbow" before she gets your body moving with "Take Me to the River."

The fact of the matter is this: Eva Cassidy was one of the most important singers of the 20th century and if she is now lost to us as a person, she is still here on these two discs and maybe just maybe, that's enough.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 February 2016

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