Folk-music icon Judy Collins connects past and present
By John Benson
When it comes to the ’60s folk revival, Judy Collins is revered as a bellwether right alongside icons such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.
At the age of 75, Collins, known for hit recordings of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” shows no sign of slowing down. She’s currently on a co-headlining tour with Don McLean (“American Pie”) that comes to Warren on Friday for a show at W.D. Packard Music Hall.
Having emerged out of the Greenwich Village scene more than five decades ago, Collins is still recording new material, as evident with her latest DVD effort, “Live in Ireland.”
Some may question why a folk singer would record a concert in Ireland, but Collins said it makes sense.
“I have an Irish background, and I was raised on the traditional Irish music that my father sang,” Collins said. “I didn’t even know it was folk music when I was growing up. I just thought it was probably Rodgers and Hart. Those were the songs he sang on the radio. I didn’t understand until I discovered ‘The Gypsy Rover’ and ‘Barbara Allen’ when I was 15.
“I didn’t realize I had been singing ‘Danny Boy’ all of that time, and ‘Danny Boy’ was a folk song.”
When it came time for Collins to record in Ireland, she had to go castle shopping, in a way, to find the perfect venue with the right ambiance.
“The insides of castles in Ireland often don’t look like Ireland, so we had to be able to turn it into something that looked Irish and was romantic and well-lighted,” Collins said. “We went through a number of choices and settled on this one, and it was perfect.”
Recorded at the beautiful Dromoland Castle, the DVD boasts a track listing that brings Collins full circle. There’s “Wild Mountain Thyme,” which she recorded on her 1961 debut CD, “Maid of Constant Sorrow,” as well as Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on A Wire” and Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
In addition, she’s joined by Mary Black for “She Moved Through the Fair” and Ari Hest on “The Fire Plays.”
Collins said one of the more special tunes is her new original “New Moon Over The Hudson.”
“I’m very excited about that song,” Collins said. “It sort of popped out a year ago just about the time I was ready to go over to Ireland to record the concert. I sat down and said, ‘I have to get this song done for Ireland.’ So it turned out to be one of my best songs, one of my most successful songs I’ve ever written.”
In case you can’t tell, Collins has been busy of late. This includes taking in as many concerts as possible from her peers. She said she recently attended shows by Jeff Bridges, Ringo Starr and Randy Newman.
Looking ahead, Collins said she hopes to record a duet with Newman, as well as a cover of Mister Mister’s ’80s hit “Broken Wings” with its singer-bassist Richard Page.
“It’s been a great summer for seeing artists perform,” Collin said. It sounds like it’s also been a networking affair for the famed singer.
As for her live shows, Collins is hoping she provides the same kind of magical feeling to her audiences.
She said, “Hopefully, they’ll have a great experience and hear some songs that they remember and some surprises.”