Sunday, November 20, 2005

Like an Angel Passing Through

(a little political respite for your Sunday morning)

Like many people, I like to listen to music while I work. And like any other geek, I'm still in a state of bliss over the invention of mp3s. Since I'm at this computer for a ridiculous portion of my day, having my cherished tunes right at hand is about as sweet as it gets.

Anyway, I finally moved all of the music from my old PC onto the new Mac and queued up some things I hadn't listened to in a while. Among the artists drifting through my ears was Eva Cassidy. Chances are, most of you haven't heard of her. She enjoyed relative obscurity while she was recording and preferred small-venue performances. That said, her music has been featured in TV shows and commercials, so you may have heard her without attribution.

I'm not a reviewer, and have no set of stock phrases to poetically describe Eva's music, so just humor me for a minute while I try.

While I understand she did write some of her own material, I've heard her described as an "interpreter of other people's music". I suppose this can be dismissed as an eloquent way of simply saying she did covers, but that would really understate what she did.

And she was a dearly gifted singer. No, she didn't have one of those acrobatic 5-octave ranges, or the lung capacity to make whales envious. Instead, her voice had a kind of purity you don't often find; a sweet, clear sound with absolutely no pretense at all, and an expression as nakedly honest as any you're likely to find.

And what she did with the songs she sang was simply amazing. She found a way to bring depth and grace to songs that you wouldn't think could be improved. Despite the quality of the original artists' work, her covers of Judy Garland's Over the Rainbow and Sting's Fields of Gold made those familiar versions sound like a half-hearted demos. And it wasn't just those two songs -- everything she did was like that. It was as if she could hear what the writers meant, but the performers could never quite do.

Every time I hear her sing, I'm inspired and moved to awe. As a musician and singer myself, I tend to be hard on other singers, knowing how easy it is to simply make noise, and how tough it is to be genuinely good. And in my book, Eva was flawless.

Wondering about all the past tense verbs in this narrative? Well, that's the tragic ending, of course. Eva passed away in 1996, at the ripe age of 33. It was cancer that took her, and as I understand it, she died just a few months after her initial diagnosis. So, knowing that, her music always makes me a little sad, since the loss of such a graceful, moving talent has left a hole in the world. My husband reminded me that at least she was able to leave something of herself behind, and he's right, of course. Sometimes I think people like this (the gifted ones that leave too soon) were really just angels passing through.

At any rate, if you have any love of music at all, you owe it to yourself to track her stuff down. I can't recommend it highly enough.


Geo_Chick said...

I love her rendition of 'Somewhere over the Rainbow'. NPR did a great piece on her a while back...

She is actually discussed and played there quite a bit. If I remember correctly, she died of melanoma and her album was released posthumously. She never did enjoy the fame she has now while she was alive. She mostly played the club scene. Her voice is really something special.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

A few albums, actually. Here's some info for those curious.