JUDY COLLINS Judy Collins #3 & The Judy Collins Concert (Elektra/Warner Strategic Marketing)
Part of Elektras excellent ongoing series of two-for-one reissues whose other delights include the first British issues of Harry Chapins first two albums, awash with previously unreleased material, and Paul Siebels entire discography on a single disc this package couples Collins 1963 studio work with a concert album recorded a year later.
The traditional Anathea opens the studio disc with a piercing clarion call and a Gallows Pole storyline, and Bullgine Run deepens the albums heft with some pell-mell banjo picking by Jim McGuinn surely its no coincidence that he would revisit several highlights of this set, including The Bells Of Rhymney, Deportee/Plane Wreck At Los Gatos and Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season) as a Byrd. The clear-eyed nostalgia of Farewell turns out to be an unrecorded Bob Dylan composition, and Hey Nelly Nelly a rambunctious civil rights timeline from the ostensibly unlikely source of Shel Silverstein. Ten OClock All Is Well hides an unwanted pregnancy and suicide behind its veneer of complacency, and The Dove is an acapella anti-war protest.
A downtrodden Masters Of War seems to carry even more fatalistic weight than the original, but for all Judys efforts her voice inevitably lacks Dylans corroded edge, a softening furthered by the omission of the songs bleakest final verse. (And is it a typo or intentional that her sleevenotes refer to one Boy Dylan?)
Not yet a songwriter, and featuring only one song shed previously recorded, The Judy Collins Concert is practically a Whos Who of the early 60s American folk tradition, featuring songs by Billy Edd Wheeler, Tom Paxton, Fred Neil, John Philips, Dylan and Dick Weissman. It opens with an appropriately frosty Winter Sky, the hope of springs regeneration beating beneath the surface. The Last Thing On My Mind already sounds like a new kind of streetwise, urban popular music; The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, with its indicting opening guitar slashes, is possibly even more brutal than Bobs reading. Instructed to sing it with me, My Ramblin Boy gives rise to the most respectful, reticent audience accompaniment youll ever hear on a live album, as if New York Town Hall had been taken over by a choir of church mice. The frantic banjo and guitar tussle of Coal Tattoo suggests some kind of early industrial age clatter, but from this distance the undoubtedly well-intentioned Medger Evers Lullaby seems like a mawkish response to the brutality that inspired it. Finally, the one song already present in Collins discography, Hey Nelly Nelly, is, deservedly, riotously received by the standards of this gathering.
If these songs are perhaps dated in language and arrangement, the situations they describe seem to be sadly ever-contemporary. Maybe these sparse, chilly readings have exerted a greater, possibly unconscious, influence upon artists such as Cowboy Junkies, Kristen Hersh and Cat Power than has generally been acknowledged. As it says on the labels, Outstanding High Fidelity Recordings, The Sound Of Quality.