Eva Cassidy could do anything. She was not so much contradictory as unheedful of boundaries. An angelic blonde with a fierce, controlled blues shout, a crystalline soprano as enamored of intelligent pop ballads as she was of thorny spirituals and soaring folk, insecure nonwriter Cassidy chose songs with unnerving self-knowledge. Although Washington lost this treasure to cancer last fall, Eva by Heart is an exquisite testament to Cassidy’s talent as well as the unique cast of her soul. Her ballads are sincere and impeccable: The delicate “I Know You by Heart” looks back on love not bitterly, but with strength and tenderness. This theme of gradual loss runs through the album—Christine McVie’s “Songbird” gets an elegant, sparkling rendition, and the reflective “Say Goodbye” is a modern strummer touched by an unexpected toughness. In the stately, piano-driven “Waly Waly,” Cassidy sings of departed love, resigned but unbowed, as the low, eternal slush of the ocean keeps time. The loping spiritual “Wade in the Water” combines Cassidy’s fragility and power for a grooving, deeply faithful affirmation. But she wails the blues like no small-boned 33-year-old should be able to—her “Blues in the Night” is full of horns and sass, and the duet (with go-go godfather Chuck Brown) “Need Your Love So Bad” stomps unstoppably, their voices as rich and gritty as the sediment in a fine port. It’s fitting but painful that the record goes out with the towering gospel “How Can I Keep From Singing?”—Cassidy’s spiritual certainty is wide and glorious, the lyrics and the angular Celtic fiddling (by her brother Dan) ineffably tragic. “My life goes on in endless song” indeed.—Arion Berger

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