First Eva Cassidy Compilation in Five Years
Blix Street Records adds to its series of albums by the late Eva Cassidy with the August 26 release of Somewhere, a collection of 12 previously unissued performances from the acclaimed Washington, D.C.-based singer. Among the program's highlights are two songs co-written by Cassidy, as well as impressive covers of material popularized by Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and Bobby Blue" Bland.
Somewhere comprises recordings Cassidy made, in various venues and studios, between 1987 and 1996 (the year she died) and includes a handful of cuts to which fresh instrumental backing has been added. As with Cassidy's U.S and international platinum Songbird album, Somewhere springs from a diverse array of song sources, all seamlessly united by her utterly distinctive vocal approach. Of special note are the album's title track and Early One Morning." An unfinished version of the former, composed by Cassidy with longtime producer Chris Biondo, had been in existence since 1990, though it wasn't until recently that Biondo, aided by Blues Alley pianist Lenny Williams and drummer Raice McLeod, completed the stunning track, which closes Somewhere. The stark, relatively unaccompanied Early One Morning" (Cassidy's voice over dobro and pedal-steel, both played by her friend Rob Cooper) features lyrics Cassidy adapted from a traditional English folk song, sung to music composed by Cooper. The track was recorded in April of 1987 at Cooper's home studio, the earliest recording on the Somewhere album.
What might seem audacious in the hands of a lesser singer--the decision to cover two songs made famous by Aretha Franklin--is simply a showcase for Cassidy's extraordinary powers of interpretation. Cassidy's rendition of Chain of Fools" (a previously unissued 1996 Blues Alley performance) is bolstered by the 2007 addition of Leigh Pilzer's horn arrangement (produced by Chris Biondo) and the backup vocals from U.K. sisters Leonie and Amba Tremain of the group Tremain and other musical elements added by London producer Steve Lima. Cassidy recorded Won't Be Long" (Aretha's first R&B hit, 1961) at Chris Biondo's Maryland studio in 1994, backed by guitar, bass and drums.
Cassidy traverses more soul territory on the full-band performance of Bobby Blue" Bland's Ain't Doin' Too Bad" (another 1996 Blues Alley performance augmented by Chris Biondo's production of a 2008 Leigh Pilzer horn arrangement and new musical parts added in the studio by Blues Alley bandmates Biondo, Lenny Williams, Keith Grimes and Raice McLeod) and embraces country music on covers of Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors," the Willie Nelson crossover classic Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and Walkin' After Midnight." Cassidy gives Walkin," made famous by Patsy Cline, a Texas swing arrangement in a 1993 performance cut live at The Wharf club in Alexandria, VA. If I Give My Heart" takes the prize for having been recorded at the most exotic location. Cassidy cut the tune, composed by bassist John Pennell, original bassist with Alison Krauss' Union Station, at a studio in Kopavagur, Iceland, in 1994. The track features just Cassidy on vocals and acoustic guitar and her brother Dan, who lives in Iceland, on fiddle.
An American standard and a brace of folk-derived pieces complete the Somewhere program. Cassidy's solo acoustic guitar/vocal take on the Gershwins' Summertime" dates from a 1995 session at Chris Biondo's Glen Dale, Maryland studio, as does her similarly sparse version of the English ballad A Bold Young Farmer." My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose," originally an adaptation of a Celtic folk song by poet Robert Burns, is a live 1995 Cassidy performance from the King of France Tavern in Annapolis.
Cassidy's has been one of the more remarkable recording careers in recent times. Born in Washington, DC, she recorded locally until her untimely death from cancer in 1996 at the age of 33, but never broke through to a national audience. She did, however, leave behind a sizable volume of recordings, many of which have since been curated and compiled by Blix Street Records, the independent label distributed in the U.S. by Ryko Distribution, with the support of her parents, Barbara and Hugh Cassidy.
In 1998, Blix Street released Songbird, a compilation selected largely from the previous Cassidy albums LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY and EVA BY HEART. Songbird featured Cassidy's signature performance of Over the Rainbow" from her THE OTHER SIDE set recorded with Washington's king of go-go" Chuck Brown, as well as her version of Sting's Fields of Gold," which was subsequently used by U.S. Ladies Figure Skating champion Michelle Kwan in competition. Later in 1998, Blix Street issued the complete LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY and EVA BY HEART, then, two years later, TIME AFTER TIME, which gathered various previously unissued Cassidy performances.
It wasn't until 2001 that Cassidy became an overnight sensation when the Songbird compilation reached No. 1 on the British charts. By the end of that year the album had been certified triple-platinum in England (for sales of more than 900,000 sold) and gold in the U.S. (more than 500,000 units); the album, now also platinum in the U.S., eventually hit No. 1 on Billboard's Internet Albums chart and topped the publication's Pop Catalog survey for 32 weeks. IMAGINE also hit No. 1 on the British charts in 2002 and commandeered the top slot on Billboard's Independent Albums chart. AMERICAN TUNE, another No. 1 in England in 2003, ultimately made it to No. 4 on Billboard's Independent Albums chart. WONDERFUL WORLD, a compilation of tracks from all the previous albums other than Songbird, came out in 2004.
Early responses to advance copies are comparing Somewhere favorably to Songbird, with some saying it may be the greatest Eva Cassidy album yet. Says Bill Straw, president of Blix Street Records: Somewhere, certainly the most diverse Eva Cassidy album to date, is a vocal tour de force that could become the hallmark for one singer covering this breadth and depth of material on one album."