Graham Parker: Eva Cassidy and Amy Winehouse are the two greatest female vocalists

When an English friend of mine raved about American singer Eva Cassidy sometime in the late ’90’s, his exhortations were intense enough to quell my usual reticence to buying albums without hearing a single performance on the radio (call me old fashioned, but that’s still how I judge whether music is worth spending money on), and so I searched the racks in the local mall until I finally found a copy of her album ‘Songbird’ buried, rather unsettlingly, in the jazz section.

Songbird

Songbird

I stuck the CD on as I drove away from Barnes & Nobles, and there she was on track one, playing live, with the audience applause removed, just her and an acoustic guitar with another guitarist adding a few touches, singing a version of Sting’s “Fields Of Gold” with such effortless, searing conviction, such consummate technique and unselfconscious soul, that I found it difficult to concentrate of the road ahead. I choked up, felt dizzy, and put the track on again as soon as it had finished, playing it about four times until I finally moved on to the next song.

Graham Parker

Graham Parker

The way she feathered those notes and coaxed them into heavenly dimensions, and then suddenly switched gears to attain full-voiced awesome power was stunning, and I knew right then that my English friend had not steered me wrong. Now, ‘Fields Of Gold’ was already a great song and a great production by the man who wrote it, but Eva’s stark version transcends the original to heights almost beyond belief, as I’m sure the songs’ composer would readily agree.

Eva

Eva

As I listened to the rest of the albums’ contents — not all of which I was thrilled with as far as choice of material was concerned — I found myself in the presence of an interpreter who could turn the most moribund fodder into manna, who could evince in the listener, in the space of a few notes, that rare and glistening emotional enlightenment that quite simply gives your goose bumps goose bumps (Yessss! I’ve always wanted to put those words into repeat mode and have them make sense!).

Graham Parker 70's

Graham Parker 70’s

But what is the lineage of Cassidy’s awesome prowess? Follow this: Vera Lynn, Judy Garland, Doris Day…long gap here…Sandy Denny…’nother long gap…Eva Cassidy. (Gulp. They’re all white!) OK, you might want to stick Dusty in there, too, but I think I’m concentrating on a vocal purity here, a purity that has minimal soul grittiness, but is still immensely soulful!

Her choice of songs shows no attempt to make a cohesive album, which is admirable in a way, because apparently she had no truck with record company execs who wanted her to chose a style and stick with it, but nevertheless makes for a spotty final product. If I’d been aware of her when she was still with us, I would have camped outside her door untill she agreed to work with me. And although normally I have no interest in producing other artists’ records, I think if I’d known about her I would have made a lot of effort to get her into the studio with a compelling band and with a bunch of tunes that could work together to make something modern and at the same time, timeless. She had a classic in her, in other words, but it’s too late now. Eva Cassidy died of melanoma in 1996 at the age of 33.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

My reaction to Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ was similar to the astonishment I felt at hearing Eva for the first time, only here we have not only a remarkable vocalist with a style very hard to pigeonhole, but a marvelous songwriter, too, one who mixes genres like an alchemist, and seemingly with little effort and zero affectation.There is another comparison to make between Cassidy and Winehouse: they both have hideous album covers, which in some ways is almost endearing and makes their deep and authentic performances shine even brighter.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

Graham Parker (1950) is an English singer-songwriter, who is best known as the energetic lead singer of the popular British band Graham Parker & the Rumour. (The New York Shuffle,  Hey Lord Don’t Ask Me Questions)

Grahamparker.net

Leave a comment!

Your email address will not be published.

1 reactie(s)

  1. daveguy1

    He’s right. I have every recording of Eva’s that’s available, and I wish there were more. The painful thing is, I was living in the Washington, D.C. area throughout the time that Eva was alive and performing locally — and I never saw/heard her sing, never even heard of her!! She was little known during her lifetime, and didn’t explode on the world scene until a British d.j. discovered, and played on the air, her sublime recording of “Over the Rainbow”. Her story is a real tragedy, mixed with a bit of after-the-fact triumph. Her music will live.