Last week, I promised to do another write-up on Cassandra Wilson’s prowess as a song interpreter, this time focusing on some of the many ballads and slower songs she’s sung. But in light of Kalamu’s promise to hip us to some of Cassandra’s jazz material, I’m going to keep it brief and focus on just one song:

“Harvest Moon” (from New Moon Daughter, 1995)
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Even before Cassandra Wilson got hold of it, Neil Young’s hymn-like ode to past love was a nice piece of music. But, oh Cassandra, Cassandra, Cassandra! This is the most sensual piece of music I know.

The arrangement is so right, it’s almost visual. Follow me now: It’s a late summer night somewhere in the Deep South. Let’s say, the outskirts of Jackson, Mississippi. Two men, musicians, sit on a screened-in porch. One has his legs crossed at the ankles, the other has a foot up on the rail. The two men are neither talking nor not talking. They’re just kind of hanging around, occasionally sipping their drinks. Just sitting.

Two guitars lean against the wall beside them. It’s humid, so humid that the men’s drink glasses are sweating. Around them, the shadows are growing, the crickets are starting to chirp. It’s getting dark. The front door of the house opens. A woman wearing a long, blue summer dress and honey-colored dreadlocks walks out. She nods to the men, taking a seat beside them. The men reach for their guitars. Moments later, the woman starts to sing: “Come a little bit closer….”

I know, I know. It’s an exercise in shameless nostalgia. The lyrics are fairly transparent attempts to jerk the listener’s heartstrings. But when Cassandra sings, “When we were strangers, I watched you from afar / When we were lovers, I loved you with all my heart,” and she sings those lyrics knowing full and well that she’s singing about some old, old flame that came and went a long, long time ago, it’s hard not to feel at least a little something. Or if you’re like me, to feel a whole lot of something. I change my mind all the time, but for the moment, it’s my favorite song.

—Mtume ya Salaam

Bonus tracks:

“Fragile” from Glamoured (2003). Original version from Sting’s Nothing But The Sun (1987).

“Skylark” from New Moon Daughter (1995). Cover of the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer standard.

           This woman can shonuff sang         

All I have to say is one word: listen!
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(I was going to go into the differences between the pop and the jazz interpretations. I was going to emphasize that part of Cassandra’s appeal is in the arrangements and part is purely in the sound of her voice. I was even going to drop in an original or two. But then I said, naw, don’t go off that way. All you got to do is tell people: listen. Listen to one beautiful, beauty-filled vocalist. Listen!)

—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 24th, 2006 at 2:19 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “CASSANDRA WILSON / “Harvest Moon””

youngblood Says:
September 24th, 2006 at 4:50 pm

When singing covers, like Sarah Vaughn and Betty Carter preceding, what Cassandra does with nuance, breath control and the unique sense of placement and interpretation of lines and melody are all aspects of what some would define as a song stylist. Like Nancy Wilson Cassandra will cover a song by turning it in then turning it out and finally turns the listener on to new ways of hearing popular music. When Cassandra does originals like Subatomic Blues or Whirlwind Soldier or the original music of others, like Henry Threadgill or Steve Coleman, the timing and sense of song let her audience know that a claim has been staked and that while some may rent they will never own her originals in the manner in which Cassandra owns covers.

Cassandra Wilson released several innovative recordings that are of a high quality of musicianship and creativity. All of which possess that rare, illusive and damn-near mystical quality found in good jazz and referred to affectionately as hip ness. What I think it is criminal is the fact that Cassandra did not get the type of mainstream critical recognition due until teaming with producer Craig Street on New Moon Daughter. Even considering the righteous treatment of Mississippi homeboy Robert Johnson’s blues and the left-handed punch in the face knockout of popular covers, New Moon Daughter is a recording of the highest order. Obviously a lot of planning went into the song selection as well as the arrangements. All Cassandra had to do was go in and sing her blue/black moon off – which she did ever so sweetly and with mind-blowing ambidexterity. The point is what took critics so damn long? The recording Blue Skies aside, I Am Waiting, Days Aweigh, Jump World and most of the rest of Cassandra’s pre-New Moon Daughter recordings proceeded with the type of urgency that was cutting edge in both artistic form and cultural significance. The latter of which probably turned away critics that refuse to accept and therefore marginalize Black culture in music. It seems as though Black cultural statements in music are rare, their significance are dwarfed and relegated to the far reaches of the music world. Black culture in music is like Pluto – reclassified by a self appointed quorum and assigned a ten digit number that can only be referenced by an atomic computer. So I imagine that if a full-bodied voice like Cassandra’s, thick in texture, warm and smoldering in timbre, a voice that grabs you by the, root then slowly rises up your spine like twin snakes or the subtle smoke trails of rare incense burning in your most holiest place, creating a pheromone-charged atmosphere thick with all the urgency a pro can create. Then such a voice will find a way to be felt. And fortunately for us she did not allow her voice to be pushed out of the sonic spectrum of the mainstream music universe. Fortunately for us Cassandra’s voice is as brilliant as diamonds and as potent as the energy of full moonshine on black water.

Minkah Says:
September 30th, 2006 at 7:06 am

Thank you, particularly to youngblood. More Cassandra please…

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