October 2003

Eva Cassidy - American Tune
Blix Street Records G2-10079
Released: 2003

by Roger Kanno

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

Not long after her death from cancer in 1996, Eva Cassidy’s Live at Blues Alley and Songbird were released on the independent Blix Street label. As word spread of this gifted vocalist and her untimely death, her CDs sold worldwide in numbers the shy, unassuming singer from the Washington, DC area could have only dreamed about during her life. Because of the success of those albums, it was inevitable that her other recordings, most of which were presumably never meant to be released, would find their way onto CD.

American Tune is made up of a mixture of demos and live performances that are unpolished, yet they still reveal glimpses of Ms. Cassidy’s talent. For instance, "Yesterday" can be a bit over the top at times, and I can’t help but think that it might have been toned down in parts if Ms. Cassidy had had the opportunity to refine it prior to its release. Cyndi Lauper’s "True Colors" is given a heartfelt interpretation, and "Dark Eyed Molly" has an innocent quality, but neither was able to reach out and fully capture my attention or my emotions. "Hallelujah I Love Him So" is perhaps the most complete song on the album, with nicely recorded guitars and Ms. Cassidy’s vocals sounding the most polished of any cut. I also enjoyed "It Don’t Mean a Thing," which is an energetic and faithful rendition of this Duke Ellington classic.

The audio quality of this CD varies from track to track, but it is acceptable considering the source material for the recordings. The vocals sometimes have an indistinct and diffuse quality and can also sound a little hollow on tracks such as "Yesterday" and "American Tune." Many of the arrangements are quite simple, consisting of just one or two guitars or piano, and do not exhibit much of a soundstage. Others that feature her band have a wider soundstage, but have a slightly up-front presentation. But even with these sonic shortcomings, Eva Cassidy’s intangible appeal is still present.

Some cynics might view yet another Eva Cassidy compilation album as exploiting the late singer’s popularity, but she has many fans who cannot get enough of her special talent. She was taken away from them too soon, and this album is really for them. While this latest CD does not contain any real gems, it does have some diamonds in the rough. For those unfamiliar with Eva Cassidy’s music, Live at Blues Alley, with its raw live energy and amazing vocal performance, would be a better first choice, but for her fans, American Tune is worth adding to their collections.