Acoustic songs from the late singer’s catalogue carrying great emotional weight.
Colin Irwin 2011
It was in 2000 that Radio 2 breakfast presenter Terry Wogan first started playing tracks by a totally obscure American singer who’d died four years earlier.
The clarity of her folksy voice applied to a broad array of styles and engaging versions of some classic material caused a sensation, triggering an amazing bitter-sweet success story that eventually resulted in three chart-topping albums, a number one single and over eight million sales. Seemingly everything she ever recorded was re-released and the story of a life so cruelly curtailed by cancer at 33 even became a best-selling book.
Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly by any undiscovered Cassidy material left to trawl, the 10th anniversary of her Songbird compilation topping the UK album chart is marked by a new collection of previously unreleased tracks which places her in a fresh context. All but one of the songs included have surfaced previously, but the difference here is that the only accompaniment comes from Cassidy’s own gentle guitar work on an entirely solo collection.
In this pure, exposed state you do get an alternative handle on an artist whose other releases have sometimes too easily portrayed her at the bland end of MOR. Her wailing, slowed-down interpretation of San Francisco Bay Blues – the one track we haven’t heard her sing before – puts a new light not only on her but Jesse Fuller’s song itself. Her soulful arrangement of Over the Rainbow is a revelation, too – radically different to her other versions, it turns the old Judy Garland warhorse into a bluesy distress call.
Desultory versions of Paul Simon’s Kathy’s Song and two Cyndi Lauper hits, Time After Time and True Colours, are less successful; but when she really pours herself into a lyric, as on People Get Ready and Autumn Leaves, we get a measure of her true standard – and sadly unfulfilled potential – as a singer. The words of Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes have scarcely sounded more poignant given the tragedy awaiting her, while the unaccompanied I Know You By Heart, which ends the album, carries enduring emotional impact.