Music Review: Eva Cassidy – Simply Eva

Hi all!

A decade ago, I heard Eva Cassidy for the first time in an unlikely place. We were watching an episode of Smallville on television and as soon as the song came on I started to ignore whatever was happening on screen. Eva was singing her version of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Time After Time“. Already a fan of the original, Eva’s version took it to a whole different level… and thus started my fascination with her music.

That one song was my gateway drug. Since then, I’ve picked up albums here and there, always hungry for more. Her album Time After Time still finds its way into my playlist at least once a week. Her versions of “Kathy’s Song” (written by Paul Simon and originally performed by Simon & Garfunkel), “At Last” (originally performed by Etta James), and “Woodstock” (originally performed by Joni Mitchell) haunt my mind on a regular basis.

It’s tough for me to describe the qualities of her voice in words. She was ethereal at times. Always passionate. With a tenderness and a strength that sends chills down my spine every single time. There are few voices that do that to me on a regular basis and Eva’s is one of them.

As I began learning more about Eva, I was crushed to discover that she had passed away of melanoma in 1996 at the age of 33. Another life cut far too short. She had so much more to share with the world.

So when I heard Blix Street Records was releasing an album of twelve acoustic tracks from Eva, I knew I had to give it a listen. The album, called Simply Eva, goes back to the core of what Eva relied on – her voice and her guitar. And as always, I was not disappointed. How could I be?

There are some songs I’d heard before with broader arrangements, such as “People Get Ready” which appeared on Live at Blues Alley. And both “Kathy’s Song” and “Time After Time” appeared on her album Time After Time. But these are stripped down versions that really showcase her guitar skills as well as her amazing voice.

Though every track is amazing, I’m going to focus on three here that really moved me.

Wade in the Water” is a classic gospel song that she just croons with a simple pluck and strum pattern that takes this gospel to a bluesy place that simply rocks. Eva would fit right into a gospel choir with this one. There’s a spiritual quality to her singing that makes even this agnostic soul think twice. For years my father has played this song on his twelve-string guitar but wasn’t able to remember the name, which makes it all that much more personal for me.

Then there’s “Wayfaring Stranger,” which is a staple of the folk tradition. And once again, Eva makes this an emotionally loaded song of cascading meanings. I wonder what she was thinking of as she sang… “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger / Traveling through, this world of woe. / There’s no sickness, toil nor danger / That bright land, to which I go.” For someone who left us with so much more to say, I hope she’s someplace like that.

And finally, there’s “Over the Rainbow” written for the MGM classic movie The Wizard of Oz. Eva played with the arrangement a bit to make it hers. It’s a song of hope for the future… “Someday I’ll wish upon a star / And wake up where the clouds are far / Behind me.” With a wistful quality in her voice, you truly believe that she hopes things will turn out for the best someday.

If you are a fan of Eva Cassidy’s, or simply are looking for some amazing acoustic folk with a voice that will leave you longing for more, I can’t recommend picking up a copy of Simply Eva enough. Give it a listen. She is missed, but she left behind an amazing legacy for us to enjoy for years to come.

Simply Eva is available today – Tuesday, January 25, 2011.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Eva Cassidy albums from Barnes & Noble and Amazon below:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Music Review: Sonos – December Songs

Hi all…

This has to be a first… I’ve found TWO Christmas albums this year I actually can stand! Is the Grinch melting or are people simply starting to go beyond traditional arrangements of boring old Christmas tunes?

Over the last ten years I’ve only found a handful of holiday-themed albums that have really clicked for me. Traditional albums filled with Christmas classics tend to stay to the tried-and-true arrangements of the same songs we’ve heard for years now. So when I find an artist that breaks the mold, either with humor, new arrangements, or new songs, I tend to take more notice.

Sonos, an a cappella group that came onto the scene in 2009, has released an album of Christmas music called December Songs and it’s striking in its gorgeous vocal arrangements and choice of songs. They’ve been busy, performing in live sessions on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Studio 360, KCRW, BBC Americana, Sirius/XM, and many others – as well as performing at the Sundance Music Festival. With all of that, it’s amazing they had a chance to get into the studio to record a holiday album. And all ten songs lend a grace and harmony to the season that adds a bit of magic back to Christmas for me.

“Ave Maria” starts off the album beautifully, adding motion to a song usually done much more slowly. Always a song rich with emotional overtones, Sonos has managed to add new life making it more of a bright and cheerful celebration than the usual dark and steady pace the song is normally performed set to.

They follow that up with “All on a Christmas Morning,” a song from the 1940s that I’d never heard before telling the story of the babe in the manger in Bethlehem. I love the opening which sounds a bit like a variation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” but merges seamlessly with the lyrics “O, they a vision fair would view / Would find the beautiful and true, / And faith and hope and love renew / All on a Christmas morning.”

But funny enough to me it’s the traditional songs “O Holy Night” and “Greensleeves” that stuck with me after listening a few times. This is the first rendition of “O Holy Night” that I can remember not making me cringe. There’s a power to the arrangements as they transition from a duet with backups to the fuller chorus and the rich vocal accompaniment. And their version of “Greensleeves” without words provides some interesting textures to enhance the basic melodies that made this a unique arrangement.

Whether you’re a fan of a cappella music, Christmas music, or are simply looking for something to brighten your holidays, please check out December Music from Sonos. The album is available now from Amazon and CD Baby online. Be sure to check out their website at Sonosings.com.

For a review of Sonos last album – Sonosings – be sure to check out my review here.

This review appeared first at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these albums from Barnes & Noble and Amazon!

Enhanced by Zemanta

[Music Review] VOCAbuLarieS – Bobby McFerrin

Hello there!

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I discovered the world of a cappella. A group of us from high school (and then into college) started listening to The Nylons, a doo-wop a cappella group that sang such classics as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the “Duke of Earl,” “Poison Ivy,” and “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream.” In those few years I think we saw them at least once a year, sometimes twice as they’d tour the Front Range of Colorado. A group singing “a cappella” means that they sing without instrumental accompaniment. No drums, no backing band, just raw, naked vocal talent. It takes more than simply having a great voice – you must also be able to hear the harmonies around you and keep to your part while those around you are singing sometimes wildly different melodies or sounds.

So when I first heard Bobby McFerrin, I was already familiar with the concepts of a cappella. Yes, this is the man who sings “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – but don’t let that throw you off. “Don’t Worry” was a big hit back in the late ’80s and inspired many to take the time to stop, slow down, and enjoy life for a while. When I bought the album Simple Pleasures on tape (yes, it was that long ago), I was stunned to discover that the man who sang the slacker anthem of my high school was one heck of a talented vocalist with a range that stuns me even today and the gift to create sounds that I still have no idea how the human vocal cords can make.

Like I tend to be with many artists, I visited McFerrin’s realm several times over the next few years, enjoying his albums Medicine Music and Bang! Zoom before his career faded a bit.

In late 2009, I watched The Sing-Off with my family on NBC, which was a competition for amateur a cappella groups from around the world that lasted about a week. Though I’d listened to a few podcasts featuring some of the amazing college a cappella groups around the United States and beyond, it was great to see groups like Nota and the Beelzebubs sing their hearts out for a recording contract. And in the season finale, Bobby McFerrin walked on stage and sang “Drive” with the finalists. The chance to see him perform live with these younger artists, even on television, was enough to remind me of all of his amazing work I’d enjoyed 15-20 years ago.

Now in 2010, McFerrin has released his latest project – VOCAbuLarieS. Only a master of his own voice and singing with others would consider taking more than 1,400 vocal tracks from members of Voicestra, his singing ensemble, and fine vocalists from the worlds of jazz, opera, performance art, early music, cabaret, and rock and roll including Grammy-winning recording artists like R&B singer Lisa Fischer, Brazilian jazz innovator Luciana Souza, Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer, and the stellar ensemble singers of New York Voices. This is truly a magnificent achievement.

The album starts off with the song “Baby,” which first appeared on Medicine Music in 1990. But this version definitely isn’t stuck in the 1990s. Somehow the layers and layers of voices and whistling not only add to the already rich melodies, but give a depth to the song that wasn’t in the original. It provides a good bridge to the past and to what McFerrin and his singing companions will do throughout the rest of the album.

“Wailers,” “The Garden,” and “He Ran for the Train” all seem to have a tribal African feel to them. But “Messages” had a vaguely Indian or Asian feel with the tiny cymbals in the background. And “Brief Eternity” feels like a Gregorian Chant at times in its intricately woven harmonies. So you can tell McFerrin continues to defy categorization. You can’t pin him to one musical style any more than you can trap the wind. And that remains yet another of his gifts.

Though I enjoyed the world-wide musical journey of VOCAbuLarieS, I almost feel that he’s lost his connection to the kidlike wonder that made his early albums more accessible. Simple Pleasures with its incredible energy will always be in the back of my mind when I hear McFerrin’s name. As Jon Bream said at the Star Tribune – “If Glee represents high school, the amazing vocalizing on this CD is a post-doctoral adventure.” I’m not typically one to go to the library to read someone’s doctorate, but if this is to be Bobby McFerrin’s magnum opus, it’s easy on the ears.

I hope to see him appear more often on the national stage in shows like The Sing-Off to inspire new generations of singers in person and through the infinite reach of television. And I hope that he continues to release albums – but I wish he’d visit the past to gain back some of that energy.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]