BWW Review: JUDY COLLINS Sings Ravishing WINTER STORIES at Joe's Pub
At the final chord of the self penned and aptly titled "Mountain Girl (in the City)" - the opening tune of WINTER STORIES, her new show at Joe's Pub - Judy Collins nudges the audience; "I have to remind you, you're looking at the American Idol of 1957." The quip, of course, gets a knowing laugh, for standing here, eternally blue eyed and ravishing, with (dare I say it) bows and flows of angel hair, now white after 60 years in the entertainment industry, the lady in front of us remains our folk earth goddess supreme.
With a career marked from the very beginning (her first release, A Maid of Constant Sorrow was in 1961) by a brand of luminous song stylings and poetic storytelling plucked from the annals of artists with names like Bob Dylan - Woody Guthrie - Leonard Cohen - it could be said that Judy Collins encapsulates not only the voice of a generation, but the fighting spirit of a generation. The sort of wandering soul looking for home and meaning across a frontier landscape that is, at once, distinctly pioneer and American in character and also universal in discovery.
That musical symbiosis that somehow yokes spirit, kith, and a kind of constant yearning has and continues to be Collins' trademark, and it's perhaps only fitting that her latest offering is at once nostalgically familiar and spiritedly unexpected. Teaming
with the soulful Norwegian folk artist Jonas Fjeld, and the magnificent bluegrass renaissance band Chatham County Line, WINTER STORIES (also the name of the combined forces' upcoming seasonal recording) is 'folk' in its most basic of definitions - an ode to people and that wistful blend of hope and mystery, spirit and pluck that defines - here, there, on the road and everywhere, our common humanity.
Grounded with travelogues like Steve Goodman's highway sing a long, "City of New Orleans," Jimmy Webb's time traveling "The Highwayman," and Stan Roger's Canadian anthem, "Northwest Passage," along with a plaintive rendition of Joni Mitchell's "The River," much of the melange of WINTER STORIES represents a sort of collective (and welcome) revisiting of the contemporary voices of Collins' musical past.
But in pairing with Fjeld and the North Carolina based Chatham County Line, Collins has found musical playmates that reveal lanes of unexpected feeling and exuberance. Fjeld, a sort of Scandinavian Joe Cocker, and CCL, the raucous Appalachia tinged trio comprising of Dave Wilson (guitar, harmonica) Greg Readling (bass) and the virtuosic John Teer (mandolin, fiddle) along with Collins' longtime musical director, Russell Walden are, quite simply, each and every one superb musicians, vocalists, and songwriters.
From the burning ember warmth of "Winter Stories" and "Sweet Refrain" (contemplative
duets between Collins and Fjeld) to the bounce of "One More Shot," and most especially the jukebox dive of "Bury Me with My Guitar On," WINTER STORIES provides a well rounded and deeply satisfying musical foray into the country landscape and the yarns you might glean along the journey.
In and amongst and supreme throughout, Collins, with that unmistakable shimmering, bird-like voice of silvery beauty, seemingly unchanged with time, is homespun and relaxed - charming (and to my surprise, very funny). "So many strings," she chuckles in typical self-deprecating wink as she tunes her guitar, "so little time..."
For a singer known for her ethereal otherworldliness, it's that grounded calm that seems to be the core of her essence and indeed of Collins' musical tastes and perspective.
Sitting at the piano and spinning an epic contemporary fairytale, "The Blizzard," we are, however, also and ultimately reminded of Judy Collins' singular and enduring talent. Painting a rich and evocative portrait of strangers lost and found, her voice and image transcend the defining of American ideology; in its clear conscious voicing of folk it, in fact, illuminates the heart of our bewitching universal fable.
The recording of Winter Stories is released November 29th and can be ordered on Amazon and wherever music is sold.
Follow Jonas Fjeld at http://jonasfjeld.com
Follow Chatham County Line at https://www.chathamcountyline.com and @chathamcoline
All photographs by Gretchen Robinette