By this time, aficionados of music by great artists must have already acquired the album I Can Only Be Me by the late Eva Cassidy with The London Symphony Orchestra. However, there may be many naysayers and refusniks who question the merit of recordings released after the demise of an artist especially if the recording in question has been embellished post-production [in any form] to “alter” enhance or adorn the music after the fact. Reactions are often vehement, often understandably so. This is not – nay, should never be – the case with this recording by Miss Cassidy.
Miss Cassidy was barely known – and that too only locally – when she was alive. This was an unqualified travesty for she showed herself to be an artist of the first order from the very first bar she sang during her lifetime. Those of us who heard her in the 1990s would also be familiar with her seminal – and iconic – recording Live at Blues Alley [CBD Records, 1996]. This recording passed like a ship in the night despite the glorious performance, as well as the fact that it was released [several times] in the UK [Didgeridoo Records, Hot Records, Blix Street Records, 1998] and in Australia [Didgeridoo Records, Hot Records, 1998].
Chris Biondo, who played guitar on that live recording, and who also co-produced that and the record under review deserve special praise for his belief in Miss Cassidy’s uncommon genius and dogged persistence in keeping her music alive and in bringing – with this new recording – her music to a new generation of listeners. So, when the music of a star such as Miss Cassidy is released – no matter what post-production techniques have been employed – it has to be nothing less than truly special. In fact, it is much more than that – it is one of those recordings that when it passes by your desk and you hear it for the first time, you have an irresistible urge to go out into the street an distribute copies to anyone who might pass you by.
It’s not as if overdubs have not been used before – including [over] other artists who had passed away such as in the famous recording, Unforgettable by Natalie Cole, which featured the voice of her [long dead] father Nat “King” Cole. In the classical music realm Glenn Gould was famous [or notorious] for using technological inventions – the overdub – to achieve what he believed to be an artistically and technologically perfect recording. I Can Only Be Me was an artistically perfect recording long before this 2023 iteration with The London Symphony Orchestra. With the addition of the LSO, this artistic and technological perfection have been increased exponentially.
Miss Cassidy’s contribution is magisterial. All the performances, heart-aching and elating in their strength and mastery, are on a scale far beyond the offerings of many other more celebrated vocalists-interpreters of music. Her voice is gorgeous, luminous, and high-sprung. She is magnificent in the manner in which she digs into the meaning of the lyrics – especially on Tall Trees in Gorgia, Waly Waly and I Can Only Be Me [to single out a three] – imbuing each phrase with a special grace. Much of the enhancement to the production have been made by the inclusion of LSO, infusing spare arrangements with luscious harmonic overtones. I suspect that this has everything to do with the dedication and innovative production genius of Miss Cassidy’s production associate, Mr Biondo.
For its part the musicians of the LSO play with restrained eloquence, never dominating any of the orchestrations, but quietly embellishing them with precision, polishing the original instrumentation, empowering the slender eloquence of [the originals] with a delicious grace and spotlighting the voice – and the lyrical interpretations – so that the music of the legendary Miss Cassidy is thrown into high relief. The recorded sound of the production is spectacular as well. An album to absolutely die for.
Music – 1: Songbird; 2: Autumn Leaves; 3: People Get Ready; 4: Waly Waly; 5: Time After Time; 6: Tall Trees in Georgia; 7: Ain’t No Sunshine; 8: You’ve Changed; 9: I Can Only Be Me.
Musicians – Eva Cassidy: vocals andacoustic guitar; Lenny Williams: piano; Christopher Willis: piano [3, 5, 8, 9] and organ ; Andrew Synowiec: guitars; Michael Valerio: contrabass and electric bass [3, 7, 8]; Raice McLeod: drums ; Nick Vincent: drums [3, 7, 8]; The London Symphony Orchestra – conducted by William Ross.
Released – 2023
Label – Blix Street Music G2 – 10121
Runtime – 41:27