It's understandable that the death of an artist will typically trigger a chain reaction: devoted fans will seek solace in tribute albums and previously unreleased works that recording companies will scurry up in order to assist with the grieving and preserve the legacy. It's a win-win situation all around. The self-titled album Method Actor (originally released in 1998) is one such beneficiary caught in this chain reaction. There is no plausible reason why you should have heard of this one-album band. Headed by songwriter David Christopher, the band produced music that was forgivably amateurish: a showcase of songs that never matured past their infancy by a late '80s soft-rock outfit mimicking various styles with little flair or originality. This album, never before released on CD, is meant to be celebrated only as a posthumous tribute to singer Eva Cassidy, who provides the vocals -- lead and back up -- in addition to the drawings that function as the album cover.
Cassidy passed away in 1996 at the age of 33 after losing the battle with melanoma. Her career spanned only two albums: The Other Side (1992) recorded with Chuck Brown and a solo album Live at Blues Alley (1996). Since then, five posthumous albums have been released and she is fast reaching the cult status attributed to the likes of Nick Drake. Only 1,000 original recordings of Method Actor were released on vinyl and cassette and rumor has it that these have commanded up to $500 on Ebay. For those trying to put together Cassidy's short career, this album fits like a missing jigsaw piece, but it's not an album that could be said to really define her. It packs the raw emotional power on tracks such as "How Will It End", but lacks the subtle emotional flecks and wistful nuances that are apparent on later works. Those in search of the definitive Eva Cassidy should listen to her efforts on albums such as Songbird or Live at Blues Alley.
Fans of Cassidy will get a kick out of hearing these early attempts, particularly given her trademark reticence towards performing. Her talent, even on this debut album at the age of 25, is undeniable and it's abundantly clear that the music does not do her voice justice. The downside is that the songs themselves are so below par that you really have to work to overlook them in order to appreciate Cassidy's voice. Though irritatingly unoriginal, the songs serve to showcase the breadth of her voice and the multiple musical styles highlight her versatility as both a singer and musician. As Cassidy's first recording attempt, fans will be interested to learn that it was through Method Actor that Cassidy met musician and producer Chris Biondi who later introduced her to Chuck Brown.
It is no secret that it was this versatility that prevented Cassidy from succeeding as a solo artist in the recording industry. Record labels couldn't market her and she refused to comply. It has been suggested that this was perhaps a strategy on Cassidy's part; that given her reluctance to perform live, this was her way of resisting fame. She is entirely convincing on "Getting Out", the opening track -- a sauntering blues number where she shows off a sultry, throaty voice to match the brassy accompaniment that is both seductive and raw. By contrast, her musicianship is most apparent in "Laugh with Me" -- a gospel-influenced song where the back up harmonies she sings to her own vocals blend together to produce shimmering timbres and complex textures that's aurally stunning. She really lets it fly on "Forever", a ballad that allows you to hear the clarity and power of her voice and on "Little Children", she takes sandpaper to her voice, giving it a rough edge simulating heartfelt emotion.
Richard Harrington of the Washington Post reported in August 2002 of a lawsuit instigated by Cassidy's parents and Blix Street records against the re-release of Method Actor for the misleading representation of Cassidy's name that they feared would tarnish the memory of the singer and temper future sales of her other albums. Fans will no doubt argue that, regardless of logistics, they need this album. As Cassidy sings on the soul style track "When It's Too Late", "Memories can mend a broken heart / A human life so badly torn apart". How absolutely fitting.