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Reviews: Judy Collins, Paradise; and Tribute To Judy Collins—Born To The Breed

Judy Collins with Joan Baez at Newport Folk Festival. (Photo by Craig Harris)

Judy Collins
Paradise
[Wildflower (2010)]

Various Artists
Tribute To Judy Collins—Born To The Breed
[Wildflower (2009)]

Joan Baez brought a bare-footed earthiness to the folk boom of the 1960s. But, with movie star-like beauty and a vocal range that would have not been out of place in the opera house, Seattle-born Judy Collins provided American folk music with its grace and sophistication. Though 50 years has passed since the release of her 1961 debut album, A Maid Of Constant Sorrow, the now- 71-year-old vocal diva remains as pure of tone as ever. With her first album in 5 years, Paradise, Collins shows that she hasn’t lost a step. Starting off with the opening strains of a rarely heard introduction to “Over The Rainbow,” she defies time as her still-golden voice soars through a set that includes duets with Joan Baez (“Diamonds And Rust”); Stephen Stills, who composed “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” for her (“Last Thing On My Mind”); and Michael Johnson (“Emilio”).

Politics remain essential to Collins’ repertoire with a pair of tunes about soldiers going off to war and returning in flag-draped coffins (Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was” and Amy Speace, Jud Caswell, and Jon Vezner’s “Weight Of The World”) and an original tune, “Kingdom Come,” that pays tribute to the fire fighters who lost their lives during 9/11/01. A traditional Scottish tune, “Dens Of Yarrow” (originally “The Dowie Dens O’Yarrow”), recalls Collins’ folk albums of the early-60s. A chorus of Denver Collins, Joe Hurley, Bob Neuwirth, Tom Paxton, Paul Rolnick, and Jimmy Webb enliven “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” while Webb adds keyboards and conch to Collins’ Interpretation of “Gauguin,” his homage to the late-19th century French post-impressionist.

Though her biggest hits, including “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell), “Suzanne” (Leonard Cohen), and “Someday Soon” (Ian Tyson), are missing, Collins’ poetic sensitivity and craftsmanship as a songwriter is evident on the 15 tracks that comprise Born To The Breed—A Tribute To Judy Collins, released in 2009. While the inheritors of Collins’ legacyShawn Colvin (“Secret Gardens”), Dar Williams (“Weaver Song (Holly’s Song)”, Amy Speace (“Born To The Breed”), and Rufus Wainwright (“Albatross”)are well represented, the CD has plenty of surprises, including Dolly Parton (“Fisherman’s Song”), Broadway’s Bernadette Peters (“Trust Your Heart”) and Chrissie Hynde, who takes a break from her hard-rocking band, The Pretenders, to offer a sparse, piano-backed rendition of “My Father.” While most of the tunes are aimed at the heart, political thoughts reverberate through “Fortune Of Soldiers,” sung by the Webb Sisters, ‘”Songs For Sarajevo,” sung by Iranian-American troubadour Ali Eskandarian, and a techno-dance transformation of “Che,” sung by British falsetto singer James Mudriczki. Jimmy Webb provides a solo rendition of “Fallow Way.” Baez and Leonard Cohen both interpret “Since You’ve Asked,” with Baez singing it and Cohen offering a spoken word recitation.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

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