Eva Cassidy, Nightbird: One night, one take, one incredible performance!

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Eva Cassidy Nightbird Blix Street Critical Blast Dennis Russo

One of the joys in getting to review music is getting to listen to someone you've never heard of before and after listening to them you realized you missed something special for a long time.

Such is the case for Eva Cassidy. I had never heard of Eva or her music prior to listing to the NIGHTBIRD 2CD set I am reviewing here. I could forgive myself for not hearing of it if Eva was someone relatively new on the scene. That is not the case here, so I could kick myself in the pants for not having heard of her sooner and been listening to her music all this time! Eva Cassidy passed away in November 1996 at the age of 33 from melanoma a mere 10 months or so after the music on these CD was recorded.

This 2CD set is a 20th anniversary release from Blix Street Records of a concert Eva held at the Blues Alley Jazz Club on Jan 3rd 1996. And while some music from that show had been previously released (12 songs on the album LIVE AT BLUES ALLEY), this is the first time the entire 31 song (list of songs are at the end) live performance is being offered. The set includes a bonus track "Oh, Had I A Golden Thread," a studio recording that Eva was very proud of and wanted the album to end with because she felt her voice was a little off due to a cold she had. Off, huh? You’d never know it!

When I received the set, opened it and looked at the list of songs I was going to hear, I was both impressed by the array of songs and intrigued in how I was going to hear them sung.

Sakes alive, this lady had a voice straight from Heaven and a style of singing that was so gorgeous it almost borders on being indescribable! You can take elements of style from names like Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Rickie Lee Jones and even Janis Joplin, and relate them all to her--the smooth jazz, cool blues and downright soulfulness that emanates from her during this show gave me what I refer to as “VHF”-- Vertical Hair Factor -- several times.

Listening to this and knowing that she did not live long enough to see just how much people would come to love her singing and the success she would have years after her passing had me thinking what a terrible loss, thinking of what she never had a chance to record; but at the same time, what a fitting tribute that decades after her passing, her music and voice can still effect people's lives and bring them joy. Can anyone ever ask for more out of their life?

From start to finish I enjoyed every song she sang. Asking be to pick a favorite would be like asking a parent who their favorite child is. Some of my favorites are Bridge Over Troubled Water, Son Of A Preacher Man, Over The Rainbow, Don’t Mean A Thing and What A Wonderful World, but I love them all!

There are songs done from the likes of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Etta James, Cyndi Lauper, Sting, Irving Berlin, Paul Simon, Al Green, and on and on! Songs that make you just mellow out, and some to snap your fingers--it’s all here.

What added to the sheer enjoyment of this music is how well it is recorded. From the moment I put the first CD into my stereo, I knew this was something special! One of the attributes my DeVore 3XL speakers have is the ability--with good source material--to render human voices with a feeling of humanness that puts the performers right there in the room with me. Eva’s voice was so well recorded and mixed that I felt I could reach out and touch her; and her band placed around her, nicely set within the sound stage. Instrument textures have a truth of timbre to them you’ll want to hear and feel!

This is the reason to have a good stereo system: so that even though the event (and sometimes even the performer) may have passed, you can pull it out, cue it up, and be there with them again. The fact too that this was done with one take (you can hear an occasional dropped line, and the audience as they respond as the songs happened) just makes it so complete, so great. I understand that after the CD release on Dec 11th a 4-LP heavyweight vinyl set will be released. I can’t wait to hear how awesome that will sound given just how superb this CD set sounds.

I cannot urge you enough to seek this set out and listen to it. It is what music--good music--is all about. Created by a young woman, lost too soon, who will forever be with us in song. I mean, look at the list of songs below and tell me that if you are a fan of Jazz/Blues you aren’t chomping at the bit to hear this set, knowing what I just said and how well it's recorded.

If you have been a fan of Eva’s all along, I envy you because you’ve gotten to enjoy her music all these years. If you’re like me and are just discovering her, all I can say this is certainly a case of better late than never. And even though she may not have been around long, it is also certainly a case of quality and not quantity that matters.

Without a doubt my highest recommendation ever!


Disc 1:

  1. Blue Skies

  2. Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad

  3. Ain’t no Sunshine

  4. Fields of Gold

  5. Baby I love You

  6. Honeysuckle Rose

  7. Route 66

  8. Bridge Over Troubled Water

  9. Eve introduces the band

  10. Chain Of Fools

  11. Fever

  12. Autumn Leaves
  13. Fine And Mellow

  14. Cheek To Cheek

  15. Don’t Mean A Thing

  16. Late in The Evening

  17. Next Time You See Me

  18. Waly Waly

Disc 2:

  1. Take me To The River

  2. Nightbird

  3. People Get Ready
  4. The Letter

  5. Son Of A Preacher Man

  6. Stormy Monday

  7. Tall Trees In Georgia

  8. Something’s Got A Hold Of Me

  9. Time After Time

  10. Over The Rainbow

  11. You’re Welcome To The Club

  12. Caravan

  13. You’ve Changed
  14. What A Wonderful World

  15. Bonus Track: Oh Had I A Golden Thread

5.0 / 5.0