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Friday, 09 November 2012 11:00

Falling in love with music: 'Live at Blues Alley' by Eva Cassidy + Video

Falling in love with music: 'Live at Blues Alley' by Eva Cassidy
Written by Matt Fernandes
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"Heaven, I'm in heaven / And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak." The moment I first heard the late, great Eva Cassidy sing these opening lines of her astonishing live album, "Live at Blues Alley," I was hooked.

I first heard the album during the fall more than a decade ago on the recommendation of a New York Times music writer, probably Ben Ratliff. At first I was a little put off by some of her vocal runs which seemed a tad over the top. But then I stepped back and considered the whole of Cassidy's accomplishment with this album, recorded at the legendary jazz club in her home base of Washington D.C.

It seemed to me a near perfect live vocal jazz album in terms of song selection, vocal dexterity and the backing band's stirring execution. The swinging songs seemed to move with a little more fervor and the ballads were a little more wistful than I had heard before. In short, I was in heaven.

Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

Sadly, like Nick Drake, Cassidy's time to shine came posthumously and certainly most of her releases did. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after recording "Blues Alley" and passed away just four months after its initial release.

Her selection of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was representative of her penchant for creating fresh interpretations of newer pop and folk songs to complement her masterful takes on jazz standards such as "Cheek to Cheek." And what could conjure autumn -- specifically Central Park in fall of 1981 -- more than this cover from Simon & Garfunkel.

But I miss you
Most of all
My darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

This version of the jazz standard "Autumn Leaves" -- with Cassidy's spare, guitar and vocal -- is devastatingly beautiful. She holds her crystalline notes for what seems like decades while picking her way on guitar through the slow burn of a song, drawing the listener in along the way.

After a raindrops-against-the-windowpane-evoking piano interlude, Cassidy takes us home with a rousing chorus that will either leave you dumbfounded and in awe or weeping uncontrollably. The latter would be me (yeah, I said it).

Discover more great autumn albums in our "Falling in Love With Music" series.

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