I’m more of a casual Eva fan. She soundtracked many a childhood road trip, and later homesickness. I listened for the comfort of a familiar voice and the vignettes of complete emotional narratives it crafted – largely neglecting the songstress herself (it upset me when my mum explained the dearth of Eva CDs). From this relative place of naivety, Elsa McTaggart’s Eva Cassidy: Celebrating 60 Years provided a lovely tour of some old favourites.
McTaggart’s performance is a tour-de-force
Inspired in part by an album of Eva Cassidy songs released by the London Symphony Orchestra earlier this year (condensed here into an easily transportable electric piano), McTaggart takes us through a packed hour of songwriting, covering everything from ballads to blues to Buddy Holly. She covers this impressive range with skill and warmth. Her intuitive understanding and ear for Cassidy’s music is also rapidly apparent, both in her sensitive interpretation of songs like What A Wonderful World and in her curiosity about how Cassidy’s experiences shaped her music.
McTaggart’s performance is a tour-de-force. Her voice captures much of the purity and agility, chameleon-like tonal range, and emotional complexity characteristic of Cassidy’s craft – without any of it sounding contrived. Well-executed finger picking guitar that’s particularly close to the original sets the foundation for a free kind of vocal interpretation that channels the intensity and immediacy that makes Cassidy’s performances so magical. This is in no small part down to McTaggart’s own particular voice, a distinctive combination of warmth and clarity. This is not mimicry, but grounded in a deep and empathetic musical understanding of Cassidy as a musician, and it’s from this place of connection that her songs find purchase with her audience. We sing through the baseline of Wade In The Water with gusto, invited in to share in McTaggart's fascination for, and love of, Cassidy’s music.
It perhaps follows, then, that the more biographical anecdotes interspersing the songs feel more like seeing into someone’s childhood home than a blow-by-blow account: a nod to her visual art, a mention of what her folks could hear through the wall when she practised. McTaggart seems particularly drawn to Cassidy as an “interpreter”; forensically studying, absorbing, and re-crafting songs that could, in turn, be reimagined in the future. Her lovely insights clash a little bit with some of the information presented on the slide, which are perhaps better suited to a show that gives more space to intricate details (perhaps a focus in past iterations of the current show). In this performance, the links between songs tug the show in too many directions. Is this an exploration of the inclusion of orchestration in Eva’s music? A life story? A happy excuse to cram as many Cassidy songs as possible into the Fringe hour? A tighter focus would have complemented McTaggart’s shimmering vocal interpretation to greater effect.
I leave this show feeling, if not wiser, then certainly highly entertained and thoroughly transported by a highly skilled vocalist. This is a show full of empathy and warmth; perhaps best exhibited in McTaggart’s Tall Trees in Georgia, a trio consisting of Cassidy’s original vocals, McTaggart, and a penny whistle. Such music can sometimes come across a little, well… weird? spooky? But in McTaggart’s careful hands it is reimagined in haunting harmony, drawing out the hazy guitar of the original. The result is beautiful and heartfelt, a poignant tribute to an artist whose search for musical perfection was cut tragically short.