The return of a singer or band that has played in the area quite often can lead to a yawn and the absence of buzz. If it’s Judy Collins, this would be a mistake.
It’s been 50 years since she performed a show in Manhattan with Elektra Records honcho Jac Holzman in attendence, resulting in her signing a record contract at the age of 22. That was the beginning of a 35-year artistic marriage that gave birth to 19 albums showcasing the songs of writers before they were household names – Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman and more. In 1963 she released an album that contained “Turn, Turn, Turn” and Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” both with guitar and arrangements by Roger McGuinn, and, of course, two years later they were No. 1 hits for the Byrds.
All these years later, she still sounds fantastic.
Judy herself has written over the years, but it is her amazingly elastic voice that still gives goosebumps after all this time, and her interpretations and sharp eyes and ears for talent that made it a slight shame that the last 40 seats at The Egg on Friday night weren’t filled to make it an official sold-out show. Sweet Judy played one of her signature songs early; Joni’s “Both Sides Now,” her only Top 10 hit, back in 1968 – two years before Mitchell would breakthrough on her third album.
The first set found Collins mostly playing 12-string guitar, accompanied by Russell Walden on piano. She juggled some hits and some Christmas music, including “Silver Bells.” In addition, she served up selections from her new CD, “Bohemian,” and a book that she supplied three songs for “When You Wish Upon a Star” – performing this Disney classic as well as Judy Garland’s most famous number “Over the Rainbow.”
Judy talked quite a lot, and the smaller Egg theater was perfect for the intimate rapport that she had with the crowd; most interesting and timely was her revelation (ala Alec Baldwin) about a pre-9/11 arrest on a plane for talking on her phone, resulting in her being taken off in handcuffs in St. Louis.
The second set began with Judy alone at the keys, and she’s a fine pianist. Opening with “My Father,” arguably her peak as a songwriter, her playing was impressionistic and hypnotizing. Unfortunately, the set was quite short. But fortunately she also played another of her signature songs, Stephen Sondheim’s classic “Send In the Clowns.” This song from his musical “A Little Night Music” was a charter for Collins in ’75, and soared even higher to No. 19 two years later. On Friday, it was a simply elegant performance that the mostly older audience ate up, and I believe that few people went home hungry that night.
Review by Steve Nover
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The evening opened strong with ‘Song For Judith,’ with Collins immediately making use of her intimidating vocal range on the high choruses. Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ followed, a bit rustier, but the few vocal cracks here were scarcely noticeable, and Collins only got better as the night progressed… Collins continued to switch back and forth between traditional holiday fare and her extensive back catalog of covers and originals. She punctuated stories about Christmas with her family with a cappella renditions of ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ and others that were just as stunning as the main songs. ‘What Child is This,’ another piano-only number, was another show-stopper for Collins vocally, building to a heady climax.”