Judy Collins: Winter Stories

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Judy Collins

Winter Stories

Joe’s Pub, NYC, November 20, 2019

Reviewed by Joel Benjamin

Judy Collins
Photo: David Andrako

No matter how much of a legend Judy Collins is, she is still, to many, a friend, one who has been a part of the lives of many of us. Seeing Collins in her Winter Stories at Joe’s Pub was as much a privilege as a pleasure.

She was joined by music director/pianist Russell Walden, Danish songwriter/guitarist Jonas Fjeld, and the delightful trio Chatham County Line (Dave Wilson, guitar; John Teer, voice & mandolin/guitar; and Greg Readling, bass), a stageful of friends who supported each other musically.

Collins, now a glorious 80 years old, opened with a song written by her and Fjeld, “Mountain Girl,” a folksy tale of a women returning to her mountain home after life in the big city. She then went on to the better known “City of New Orleans” (Steve Goodman). Her voice now has a slight ragged edge which oddly enough turns her pristine soprano into a more emotionally expressive instrument.

“Northwest Passage” (Stan Rogers) was her tribute to her Canadian roots, a poignant ballad about the passage of time.

The Chatham County Line guys, who are from Raleigh, North Carolina sang their sweet “Chip of a Start,” a song full of nature imagery.  Fjeld contributed his witty “One More Shot,” a country-western-infused ditty sung in an authentic-sounding whiskey-soaked voice, surprising for a man from Denmark! Fjeld also soloed on an upbeat, twangy “Bury Me with My Guitar On” written with Chatham’s Dave Wilson. 

Collins told clear-eyed tales of hearing Bob Dylan composing “Tambourine Man” and of a call from Al Kooper, who introduced her to the work of Joni Mitchell whose “Both Sides Now” she sang a bit unsteadily, but movingly, towards the end of the show. 

Truly touching was Collins’ “The Blizzard,” a song written for a TV special she did with Kris Kristofferson. It tells of an automobile journey in the mountains during the title snowstorm, a stop at a roadside café, and a wistful, bittersweet look at life. Equally beautiful was Collins’ rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “The Highwayman,” a poetic song about the journey of a soul reincarnated asa highwayman, a sailor, a worker on a dam and, finally, the captain of a spaceship. Collins gave it depth, understanding, and heartbreaking clarity.

A lovely “Amazing Grace” ended the set with the audience and all the musicians joining in. As they say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as her fans, many her contemporaries, were feeling the pull of a great artist.

Joel Benjamin

A native New Yorker, Joel was always fascinated by musical theater. Luckily, he was able to be a part of seven Broadway musicals before the age of 14, quitting to pursue a pre-med degree, which led no where except back to performing in the guise of directing a touring ballet troupe. Always interested in writing, he wrote a short play in high school that was actually performed, leading to a hiatus of nearly 40 years before he returned to writing as a reviewer. Writing for Cabaret Scenes has kept him in touch with world filled with brilliance.