…there to see my savior

Here’s a case where “what you see” is not necessarily “what you get.”  A few months ago (6 March) we featured the song, Fields of Gold, sung by one of the most mellifluous folk voices ever recorded, that of Eva Cassidy.

If you knew nothing about today’s selection beyond the fact that it’s a traditional American folk/spiritual that has been covered by the likes of Dolly Parton; Tennessee Ernie Ford; Alison Krauss; Peter, Paul and Mary; Emmylou Harris; Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash (among many others)… you’d no-doubt arrive at certain assumptions about the listening experience you’re in for. The fact that Wayfaring Stranger is especially associated with Burl Ives (so much so that he became known as “The Wayfaring Stranger”) would surely seal it for you.

And having heard her rendition of Fields of Gold you’d be correct in thinking that the shy, waif-like Cassidy could do wonderful things with such a song.  But what might surprise you is the kinds of wonderful things she actually did.  Unfortunately they’re a key reason why she lived her entire life in near obscurity.

Eva Cassidy’s singing had astonishing range and versatility and regardless of genre she could effortlessly out-perform many of the world’s great jazz, folk, soul, gospel, pop, country and blues singers.  But her unwillingness to narrow her stylistic focus to one genre prohibited her from securing any kind of record deal.  Artistically, she was compelled to “sing it” her way, which record executives saw as anathema to immediate marketability.

In the case of today’s selection, Cassidy opted to eschew the tried-and-true folk and country influences and bounce the song into a new “spiritual” universe.  Listen to her splendid vocal phrasing and note how she is able to float that prhasing along the bar lines of the melody. Then compare the second chorus with the first, and notice how she increasingly wears that poor wayfaring stranger’s sentiments on her sleeve.  Lastly, be sure to listen closely to the poignant conclusion, sadly portentous of her own life’s story… “I’m going back to see my savior; oh, I’m going back, no more to roam.”

The fair-skinned/fair-haired Cassidy was dead within a year from malignant melanoma and today’s selection was first released on her posthumous debut album in 1997, ‘Eva by Heart’ and then included on the break-through compilation album, “Songbird,” the following year. Word has it that this track was nearly lost to the cutting room floor (deemed too rough) and that it was only through her father’s intervention that we are able to appreciate what the woman who redefined “Fields of Gold” could do with a “Wayfaring Stranger.”


Wayfaring Stranger

 I am a poor wayfaring stranger

While journeying through this world of woe

And there’s no sickness, toil nor danger

In that bright land to which I go

 I’m going there to see my Father

I’m going there no more to roam

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will gather around me

I know my way is rough and steep

And beautiful fields lie just before me

Where God’s redeemed there vigils keep

I’m going there to see my Father

I’m going there no more to roam

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

 I’m going there to see my Mother

I’m going there no more to roam

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

 I want to wear that crown of glory

When I get home to that good land

Well I want to shout salvation’s story

In concert with the blood-washed band

 I’m going there to see my Savior

I’m going there no more to roam

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

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