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Cassandra Wilson: Blue Light ‘Til Dawn

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Released in late 1993, Blue Light ‘Til Dawn was a game-changer. It did not win Cassandra Wilson a Grammy (those came later), but it sold nearly a million copies. It shot her to the top of the DownBeat Critics Poll in the female vocalist category, where she has remained.

More significant than the album’s commercial success and its inauguration of a critical consensus was its new concept of repertoire. In 1994 it was not yet common for jazz singers to get material from singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison. “Black Crow” is a re-composition, a reliving of Mitchell’s story, every line transfigured by startling intervals and rhythmic displacements for a fresh, treacherous groove. “Tupelo Honey” is beyond sensuous. It is slowed to a crawl, lingered over, tasted. On the first level of meaning, they are the black versions of these songs. On a deeper level they are the universal human versions.

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