Judy Collins first revisited her 1964 live recorded first New York solo concert, on the same stage some fifty seven years later in February of this year. This special weekend was an “encore” performance – another chance to see the concert in full, with an additional 72 hours of “reviewing” time included in the entrance fee. There were a few changes from the original 1964 concert – the songs were a mix of those from the record (but not all of them) and some later additions to Collins’ repertoire. And this was a full band performance – Judy Collins’ regular musical arranger and pianist Russell Walden was joined by Zev Katz on bass, Doug Yowell on drums and on guitars, steel guitar, banjo and mandolins was Thad DeBrock. And of course this was a recording “live” streamed, so no audience – although Judy did encourage us to “sing-a-long on the zoom!” during Paxton’s ‘Ramblin’ Boy‘. So it was a concert of exhilarating variation – traditional songs, songs by the hot shot new songwriters of the day such as Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan, and a few choice selections of later discoveries such as Joni Mitchell.
If one ever wonders if Judy Collins’ voice can still be intact enough to do credit to her musical heritage all that’s needed is to hear her tear ‘Anathea’ into beautiful pieces across an amazing vocal range to dispel all doubts. Judy Collins’ voice is still a fine instrument, and her song delivery can still leave one shaken. But what also makes her performances are her anecdotes – a fine example is an introduction which starts with her retelling hanging out with John Phillips and Michelle in the Village, dropping acid with them and taking several weeks to get over the experience – but also being aware enough to recall and then record a song that John had sung her that night. And him calling her up and saying “I don’t recall writing that song.” Wild times, and the song was, of course, ‘Me and my Uncle‘ – one of John Phillips’ most covered songs. There were a number of cowboys though the evening, in ‘Wild Rippling Water‘ and most beautifully in Ian Tyson’s movingly sung ‘Someday Soon.’ It’s those hot-shot singers though who contribute many of the highlights – after a lengthy recollection of a young Bobby Zimmerman, Judy’s version of ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll‘ was stately, taking the song fully into the folk realm, topical at the time, of course, but a story that resonates through the decades. Linked with a story about Collins’ participation in voting rights drives in Mississippi at a time when danger – including the murders of activists – was a genuine possibility, it’s a reminder that Judy Collins has paid all sorts of dues along the way. There’s more politics on ‘Coal Tattoo‘, Billy Edd Wheeler’s song about Union busters that featured in the original Town Hall concert – it rocks on this recording thanks to DeBrock’s sensitive slide guitar and is a stand-out song alongside its better known contemporaries. Also rocking, somewhat, was the traditional ‘John Riley‘ – albeit here it was a folk-rock seasoning, with Zev Katz switching to electric rather than upright bass and DeBrock to electric mandolin.
‘Both Sides Now‘ was a beautiful performance – a song as important to Collins as it was to Joni Mitchell, its openness and honesty still shining through: “tears and fears and feeling proud to say I love you right out loud” what a lyric, and couple that with “and now old friends are acting strange they shake their heads and say I’ve changed / well something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day” and you have quite a song. As you do with Jimmy Webb’s ‘Highwayman‘ that brought the gig to a close with it’s optimistic “I’ll be back again and again and again” – and we sure hope so Judy.
In the end what can one say about Judy Collins? Always a professional performance, a voice that is amazingly intact and a wealth of amazing stories that go far beyond name dropping tales but veer between honest recollections of various wild times and more serious stories that evoke a time that’s long gone – but in some ways is still very relevant to now. Of course it was a fine concert – and if there’s one good thing that can be said about these no live gigs days then it is that many performances are getting properly recorded that might never have been otherwise. Let’s find the silver lining in that cloud.