The album SOMEWHERE was released in August, 2008. Its twelve songs come from a variety of sources and display the usual mixture of musical styles that Eva enjoyed. The Blix Street Records press release stated, “SOMEWHERE, perhaps the most diverse Eva album to date, constantly surprises, as Eva Cassidy once again takes us along on her unique musical journey.” The following are my own notes about the songs on the album:
“Coat of Many Colors”
The opening song, “Coat of Many Colors,” came from the many “buried treasure” cassette tapes saved by guitarist Keith Grimes. (You can read more about these tapes in this article about the AMERICAN TUNE album; it’s a great story.) I love this song because it sounds very quiet and intimate, similar in feel to “I Wandered by a Brookside.” It’s easy to imagine Eva sitting on the living room couch with her guitar, playing and singing just for you! Keith Grimes joins in on electric guitar. Their informal session was taped in 1993 at Chris Biondo’s studio in Glenn Dale, Maryland. The song was written by Dolly Parton and is one of the most-covered of her songs.
Chris Biondo recalls, “I first heard Eva sing this when she was rehearsing in the basement of the house in Upper Marlboro. We had bought a little portable PA system so Eva could do solo performances. She was getting ready to do her very first solo concert, which was at a seafood restaurant at the corner of Colesville Road and University Boulevard in Silver Spring. So she rehearsed and I was her audience, that’s the first time I ever remember hearing that song. She never did it with the band.”
“My Love is Like a Red Red Rose”
“My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” was recorded live at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis the same night as the previously-released songs “Woodstock,” “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” and “Time After Time.” Eva’s tender, wistful rendition of the traditional folksong, with lyrics by Robert Burns, is accompanied by her own guitar arrangement. Could any singer ever hit a high note as lightly as Eva Cassidy? Eva was in great voice that night, far better than at Blues Alley. We are fortunate that Chris Biondo plugged his new DAT machine into the soundboard that night and preserved these wonderful performances.
Eva’s friend Elaine Stonebraker tells how Eva learned the song: ‘[One] day Eva and I drove over to the Eastern Shore (across the Chesapeake Bay) in her new, blue little car. I had a tape of a recent radio program that had featured Songs by Robert Burns, and she popped it into her cassette drive. When “My Luv is Like a Red, Red Rose” came on, she said, “That is the most beautiful song I have ever heard.” So the entire remainder of the trip consisted of me hitting the rewind button and trying to write down the words – again and again! She had the gist of it by the time we got home.’ Elaine adds, ‘The radio program was Traditions, Mary Cliff’s Saturday night program on WETA. It was taped during the annual Robert Burns program, which coincides with the famous Robert Burns Suppers around the world. The singer was Davy Steele, the singer in Ceolbeg. Eva said that she loved his voice, that it was “the perfect man’s voice.”‘
Chris Biondo says, “This was more of the material Eva got together for solos. She also put it on a demo tape she made at my studio, to send to club owners, so she could get more work, make more money doing solo things in addition to band things and working during the day. She wasn’t doing too well monetarily, she was looking for other avenues of income.” Eva, like so many performers, was barely getting by financially.
“Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad”
The vocals on this track, one of my favorites on the album, were recorded “Live at Blues Alley” the same evening as the songs used on Eva’s celebrated 1996 album. Thanks to new technology it was possible to separate the vocals from the accompaniment; Keith, Raice, Chris and Lenny re-recorded the band parts in the studio earlier in 2008. Leigh Pilzer, who played a number of gigs with Eva and scored horn arrangements for her, put together another one of her terrific arrangements to add a big-band sound. Leigh plays bari and tenor sax, her husband Chris plays trumpet, and Jen Krupa plays trombone. Chris and Jen are members of the U.S. Navy jazz ensemble “The Commodores.”
Chris Biondo relates, “That was a song Keith [Grimes] brought to us to learn. He’s a student of these ’50s and ’60s R&B things, he’s got a good library of really obscure R&B stuff. I’d never heard the song before he brought it. He’d bring a song in on cassette, play us the original version, we’d decide if we wanted to do it in the same key or change it, depending on what suited Eva’s voice. We played it at every gig, usually that was the second song we played in our first set. The reason was that we usually played ‘Born under a Bad Sign’ first, and when that song was over I’d start right in on the bass line of ‘Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad,’ then everyone would start playing along with me, it gave a solid flow. After that we’d kind of wing it.”
According to Keith Grimes, it was a challenge to put together “a repertoire that we could play the local ginmills with. I would bring Eva cassettes with maybe 15 or 20 songs, and she’d wind up picking 3 or 4, it would be an intense process. ‘Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad’ was from a Bobby Bland record. Eva was interested in Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, and Bobby Bland was on a similar level vocally. Eva enjoyed it and she dug Bobby Bland. It was a fun song to do, with its comically braggadocious lyrics. At one point we did that with Chuck and Eva, they’d trade off the lyrics, but we didn’t record it.”
“Chain of Fools”
Another of Eva’s covers of an Aretha Franklin song, written by Joe Covey. Eva performed this song often for her gigs with the Eva Cassidy Band.
When this album first came out, all I wrote here was “At present I have no comment to make about this track.” I was being Good and Nice. I didn’t want to say anything negative about the album while it was getting reviewed. Now I’ve decided that I can write what I think, namely, I absolutely HATE HATE HATE what was done to this song. A bunch of musicians and singers Eva never met were added in with Eva and the band, and worse still, an abominable fake music video was made, to pretend that all those people were with Eva at Blues Alley. To me this is totally different from having Eva’s longtime musical colleagues add instrumentation to her vocals. The analogy I used at the time, when I was venting to friends instead of writing about it, is this: It’s like the difference between relaxing in a hot tub with people you know and trust, and being shoved into a hot tub with a bunch of strangers. I wouldn’t want to get in a hot tub with people I didn’t know, and Eva wouldn’t either. There. I’ve written it.
“Won’t Be Long”
“Won’t Be Long,” which Eva and the band referred to as “When the Whistle Blows,” is a band number from their standard repertoire. This performance actually comes from a rehearsal tape made in 1994 in Chris Biondo’s studio in Glenn Dale. According to Chris, “Eva picked that song, she really liked it, it was on an obscure Aretha record, I remember she had it at the house. It was another song we did every night.”
Guitarist Keith Grimes is especially pleased that this was included on the album because of its upbeat contrast. “I always thought they should release that. As you know, Eva wasn’t known for the peppy, happy songs; she specialized in singing the stuff with a bittersweet quality to it. But she was certainly more than capable of handling a song that was completely jubilant in its energy.” Grimes adds, “There’s a high F note on that, it’s a really tough high note to hit. It was always fun to wait for the moment when that thing came, she had to hit it with a lot of power, it’s stratospheric!”
“Walkin’ After Midnight”
This is another of Keith’s “buried treasures.” “Walkin’ After Midnight” was taped live at The Wharf in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1993. Eva, Keith and Chris are joined by “JuJu” House on drums. The song, commonly associated with Virginia native Patsy Cline, was written by Alan Block and Don Hecht. Like “Won’t Be Long,” it was part of Eva’s standard band repertoire for years.
Chris Biondo recalls, “The Wharf was a place where we used to play with the full band, except for Lenny, on Sundays, maybe two Sundays a month. They paid us $325, and then they said they were cutting back and they could only pay $225, so we said OK, and showed up without Raice, and performed as a trio. The owner of the club was standing outside talking about the gobs of money he was making. I looked at him and said ‘How come you’re paying us a hundred dollars less now?’ It’s hard standing up for four hours, and those stairs are just murderous to carry your equipment up, it was two flights straight up without a landing. After awhile we switched over to the 219 Club up the street.”
Biondo thinks “Walkin’ After Midnight” was added to the band’s repertoire for a particular engagement. “We played at a country music bar once that was in Temple Hills, off Route Five. I think we learned that song to add some country to our playlist. It was a nice club with two performance areas. We played upstairs, for about three people. The owner of the club thought we were great. Between songs he same over and said ‘How about I pay you the full fee and you finish up the set and go home.’ That kind of thing happened to us from time to time.” (Webmaster’s note: I know this is hard to believe. But it’s true, and it’s one of the reasons I’m always reminding you to support live local music!) Keith Grimes says the country music bar might have been called Cotton-Eyed Joe’s. “I think we realized we didn’t fit in, in any way, shape or form,” he notes.
“Early One Morning”
This song, which Eva wrote and recorded with her friend Rob Cooper, is completely new to me. It’s a wild, Appalachian-sounding song with complex vocal harmonies and lyrics taken from a traditional English folksong. I expect to interview Rob Cooper about the song soon. Just from listening to it, I can tell you that Eva surely had a great time working on it. One of her favorite things to do in life was to experiment with layers of her own vocals! Rob is heard playing dobro and electric lap steel guitar.
“A Bold Young Farmer”
This is another ballad that Eva usually sang when she was doing live folk-oriented performances. It also reminds me, with a giggle, of a recollection guitarist Keith Grimes shared with me when I interviewed him in 1999. He was referring to “A Bold Young Farmer” when he told me, ‘Of course, Eva was devastating on ballads, her ballad singing was really special. But one time she came to me with some Elizabethan ballad about a girl who had been impregnated by the local nobleman, was shunned by everybody, there was nothing left for her but to commit suicide. I said, “I’m so glad you picked this song, it’s going to go down so good in a bar!”‘ So yeah, OK, “A Bold Young Farmer” wouldn’t be the perfect happy-hour song, but I love it for what it is. This was recorded in the Glenn Dale studio in 1995. It’s a traditional ballad from the British Isles.
“If I Give My Heart”
Eva’s brother, the fabulous fiddler Dan Cassidy, accompanies Eva’s guitar in “If I Give My Heart,” which the siblings recorded in Iceland. Dan’s violin adds a plaintive dimension to Eva’s guitar and vocals in this folk-style song which Eva often performed at her solo performances. Dan has lived and performed in Iceland for many years, and in 1994 Eva had a wonderful visit to that beautiful country.
Eva almost certainly learned “If I Give My Heart” from Alison Krauss’s 1987 debut album on Rounder, “Too Late to Cry.” The folk/bluegrass style song was written by John Pennell, who also wrote another of Eva’s favorites she learned from Alison Krauss, “As Lovely As You.” I hope that’ll be on an album someday too! Pennell himself wrote in the Eva Cassidy Guest Book, “Eva’s recording of my song is so soulful and beautiful, I have no adequate words to really describe her performance…. I can’t adequately thank the people enough who are responsible for selecting my song to be part of this project. But more importantly, I can’t thank Eva and her brother enough for learning, performing and recording my song. I wish she were here today so I could thank her in person. But a voice this beautiful and a soul this pure, surely already knows how I feel. It’s amazing that, in less than 24 hours, I went from absolute ignorance to absolute bliss (no, ignorance is(was) not bliss in this case). I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world to have been honored by Eva’s singing.”
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Summertime.”
I’m not sure if these were recorded as a demo tape or if it was one of those occasions where the tape was rolling during a rehearsal. Apparently both “Blue Eyes Crying” and “Summertime” were recorded at the Glenn Dale studio in 1995. “Summertime” is of course Eva’s unique take on the Gershwin standard from the opera “Porgy and Bess,” which Chris Biondo describes as “kind of a backporch gospel flavor.”
The album’s title song is “Somewhere” with lyrics by Eva Cassidy and music by Chris Biondo. A few years ago I asked Chris for details about the song. His reply: ‘When Eva and I first got together, we made a list of things we wanted to do together — trips we wanted to take, things we wanted to learn, projects we wanted to do. One of these was to do a song like “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, in the same kind of musical style, using it as a point of departure for the instrumentations and the vibe of the song, which is melancholy and anthemic. I put the music together in my basement, just with a synthesizer and drum machine, and gave the song to Eva to write the lyrics. After she recorded the vocals she was happy with the chorus but she didn’t like the verses. We didn’t have a good lyrical flow, and the verses weren’t as strong as the chorus. So we never finished it, we just put it away as an experiment that worked only about seventy percent. But I thought that vocally what Eva did with the chorus was magnificent. The words she wrote express her confusion about people being evil to each other, that’s what I get out of it.’
Early in 2008, Blix Street Records asked Chris and Lenny to revisit the song for the new album. The result is beautiful. Eva’s sister Margret confessed that “It brought tears to my eyes, it really did. It’s the kind of song you hear at the movies where there’s always some powerful song during the final credits.” It’s catchy too — I heard my teenaged son whistling it around the house!
I asked Chris Biondo for more insight into the original recording process for “Somewhere.” He told me, “Eva enjoyed the luxury of being able to multitrack her vocals, do three and four part harmonies, double the harmonies, build these large background vocal parts. In ‘Somewhere,’ she’s got the choruses singing, and then there are other backups going ‘Hear, hear,’ underneath the last chorus. It took us several days to record that. There were probably at least 20 different tracks. We’d set up the area we were working on in a loop, maybe two or three lines of the chorus. I’d keep reassigning record inputs and she’d keep singing along with it. We would record maybe half a dozen times of her singing the same thing, then stop, listen to what we had, decide which ones we liked the best, blend them the way she liked them, make adjustments if a harmony was too loud or too soft. Then we would bounce the vocals that were part of the harmony cluster into two tracks of stereo so we could add more tracks. If we didn’t do that, we would have run out of tracks pretty fast.” But Eva lost interest in the song when the choruses were complete, Biondo recalls. “After spending all that time on the choruses, she put maybe about 20 minutes into recording the verse. That’s not where the effort went. If we had ever picked it up again we would probably have fine-tuned it.” Instead, Eva redirected her focus to the studio recordings that would later become EVA BY HEART, such as “Songbird,” “I Know You By Heart,” and “Blues in the Night,” all recorded around the same time.
Creating harmonies and recording her own backup vocals were clearly essential to Eva. She felt very protective, that female vocals, especially, were her own personal domain. But there were some exceptions. For instance, she wanted a different sound on ‘Time is a Healer’ and asked me to get Mark Carson to sing.”
The lyrics of the song are as follows:
Is time my redeemer?
Loneliness my only friend?
Just once in a lifetime
Strangers share a common end
And I like an arrow
Straight for love I went again
And you like tomorrow
Never knowing where and when.
At some time someone cared
Maybe just for a moment
Or maybe for a lifetime.
Are the threads that bind us together
Falling loose or growing stronger?
Look at it now
Look at the picture
Has it changed
Or is it still the same?
Author’s Note: I would like to thank the following people for helping with this song-by-song discussion: Chris Biondo, Keith Grimes, Elaine Stonebraker, Margret Cassidy Robinson