Aftonbladet article

SONGBIRD album cover

Review from the Aftonbladet, December 12, 2001

Sunday column
Columnist: Lasse Anrel

Translated by Henrik Thiil Nielsen

The record that changed my life

Now she is found at gas stations and she gets reviewed in the most prestigious papers

Birmingham can break you. It takes hours just to drive a single kilometer, because every junction is a rotary, and it takes a quarter of an hour to pick an exit, for they all really seem quite okay. Out on the freeway there are twenty-seven different lanes to choose between, and after every curve another confusing rotary threatens. Anyone with a disposition to malignant ambivalence is thrown into a state of psychosis the moment he approaches Birmingham.

Yet that was where I discovered a record that changed my life.

At a gas station amid an assortment of dismal compilation records and glitzy girl pop bands I see this CD whose cover features a blonde with a dark and somewhat shy gaze. The phrase ‘One of the greatest voices of her generation’ appears on the cover together with a few excerpts from reviews in big, important newspapers.

‘Dear me, this girl never got a single review in her life’, is my first thought, ‘yet now she is found at gas stations, and she gets reviewed in such prestigious papers as The Guardian.’ I cast a quick glance at a sales chart there in the gas station and find that her album is number nine.

Her name is Eva Cassidy. A blonde, gazing out from the cover, she looks like an even more homespun version of Nina Persson from [Swedish pop rock band] the Cardigans. Songbird is the title of the CD, and needless to say I buy it. If you find yourself in Birmingham you need all the help you can get to see you well through all the tribula…, eh, the rotaries of life.

Cassidy released her first solo album in the autumn of 1996 but just then learned that she suffered from a malignant form of cancer. She died later that same autumn.

There things might have ended, but a posthumous album entitled Eva By Heart had been released, and evidently someone must have listened to it and heard what nobody else had heard. A compilation of songs from her three records was put together and suddenly someone at an English radio station was listening and started playing some of her songs.

Still half in slumber, the record business wondered what was about to happen.

The BBC put on a television show as part of the popular Top of the Pops, and then all of a sudden the record business was wide awake. This was something special! A white girl with a distinctive magnetism to her voice, a sort of black charisma in a white incarnation! And the record business jumped to its feet and shouted:

-We must, must, must have this girl! They made their bids, and the highest bidder was allowed to release the CD in England.

I put the record on in my car, and I’m completely dumbfounded. It’s not what I thought it would be. It’s not the black, easy soul music I had expected – it is music of the most seductive and melodious kind. The first track is Sting’s Fields Of Gold, which is turned into a majestic ballad sung in a husky whisper. There’s a sort of seventies feel to it. Anyone who learned to love the simplicity of Dylan, Cohen and Simon & Garfunkel feels at home again, and I think of Paul Simon’s Kathy’s Song – so simple and majestic.

Then follows a jazzier track, and perhaps the husky voice feels more at home here, but I want more of the melodious music, my entire body is screaming for more of the beautiful stuff.

Then she sings Autumn Leaves, and it is achingly beautiful, heart-rendingly beautiful, sung by a voice stilled in the autumn some years ago. The emotion is so real that it almost jumps out of the speakers and stands in relief in the air. It is as if a living human being is standing before me. In her voice it is spring and autumn at the same time, and you wonder how this can be. After repeatedly playing the CD through, it is the jazz tunes that keep growing most, but it is the beautiful songs I return to because I feel a physical craving for them when I am out walking or sitting in my car.

Songbird, the track that lent its title to the compilation, is another ballad, and it is a song never yet done with such bare simplicity and beauty. It is perhaps the most beautiful song recorded since Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. She sings Pete Seeger’s ‘Oh, Had I A Golden Thread’ in a similar fashion. It is beauty of a kind that leaves you defenseless. You do not want to defend yourself. On that first occasion in my car I played it nine times in a row.

The last song is Over The Rainbow, and corny as it may seem, this choice makes absolute sense. When Eva Cassidy sings it, once again it is about the little girl in the land of the wizard. The little, little girl with the great little voice in the big, big world.

I think Eva Cassidy’s CD Songbird is a great, great Christmas gift.