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Singer-guitarist Eva Cassidy’s first solo CD is an unqualified triumph, one of the most arresting vocal collections in years. The dynamic range of Cassidy’s crystalline voice is remarkable; she moves from delicate ballads to full-throated blues shouting without a trace of strain or contrivance. Her repertoire offers a challenging assortment of standards (“Blue Skies,” “Autumn Leaves”), blues (“Stormy Monday,” “Fine and Mellow”), soul (“People Get Ready,” “Take Me to the River”), contemporary folk (“Tall Trees in Georgia,” “Fields of Gold”), pop (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), and gospel (“Golden Thread”), all of which she interprets with sensitivity and impressive musicianship. Taped last Jan. 2 and 3 (except for the rousing “Golden Thread,” a studio track featuring organist Hilton Felder and included as a benedictory coda because it is the singer’s favorite song), Live at Blues Alley is so faultlessly executed by Cassidy and her accompanying quartet, and so translucently recorded, it’s difficult to believe that the CD documents a club engagement. From the opening “Cheek to Cheek,” a swinging demonstration of the singer’s jazz chops and assured gift for improvisation to the indigo funk of “Stormy Monday” to the tender, life-affirming “What a Wonderful World” (especially poignant in light of Cassidy’s current health crisis), this collection delights the ear and nourishes the spirit. All that’s missing is a liner essay providing some information about this gifted young artist’s history and distinguishing her guitar contributions from those of back-up guitarist Keith Grimes. Live at Blues Alley announces the arrival of a world-class singer, one in whom we can take special pride because she’s paid her musical dues in our own back yard. (Available from cbd records, 292 West St., Apt. A, Annapolis, MD 21401.)
—Joel E. Siegel