CASSANDRA WILSON / “Harvest Moon”
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)
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
—“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!
(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
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