JUDY COLLINS Judy Collins #3 & The Judy Collins Concert (Elektra/Warner Strategic Marketing)

Part of Elektra’s excellent ongoing series of two-for-one reissues – whose other delights include the first British issues of Harry Chapin’s first two albums, awash with previously unreleased material, and Paul Siebel’s 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 album’s heft with some pell-mell banjo picking by Jim McGuinn – surely it’s 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 O’Clock 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 Judy’s efforts her voice inevitably lacks Dylan’s corroded edge, a softening furthered by the omission of the song’s 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 she’d previously recorded, “The Judy Collins Concert” is practically a “Who’s 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 spring’s 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 Bob’s reading. Instructed to “sing it with me”, “My Ramblin’ Boy” gives rise to the most respectful, reticent audience accompaniment you’ll 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”.