Judy Collins to Perform at The Levoy TheatrePosted:
By Jeff Schwachter
A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper
Sweet Judy at The Levoy Theater
Judy Collins to perform holiday numbers and fan favorites on Friday, December 18th at the Levoy Theatre.
Collins, who, at 76, still performs more than 100 shows a year across the globe, is relaxed and casual on a recent Friday morning in December speaking by phone from her New York home.
The singer and American treasure, who has helped propel such singer-songwriters to mainstream audiences as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman (and more recently Bhi Bhiman and Ari Hest) has a performance at the Metropolitan Opera of New York in just hours, one of a slew of dates she has scheduled throughout the month and into 2016, but she’s calm as a kitten and gracious enough to take time for an interview with The Grapevine.
Collins has not only had an extraordinary career, spanning six decades and more than 50 albums but a milestone year as well.
Her latest album, Strangers Again, was released this past September on her Wildflower imprint and is a nod to one of her most popular albums, 1967’s Wildflowers, which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Album chart and features her hit take on Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” It is also her first album in more than 30 years to reach the Billboard charts, her highest charting album in decades.
Along with that, she’s finishing up a new book on the subject of food cravings, one of several autobiographical books and memoirs she’s penned and is also an advocate and in-demand speaker on mental illness and suicide prevention.
On her recent trot around the globe, performing in such places as England and Germany, she’s given rich and revealing interviews as well as some of the best performances the Grammy winner has ever done.
“I’m getting better at what I do, I know that,” says the soprano of her singing during a brief interview. “I’m on an upward trend.”
In a September interview with the Wall Street Journal published a couple weeks following the release of Strangers Again, the Seattle native spoke about her early bouts with polio, depression and alcoholism before her career as a folk singer took off in 1963, a couple years after releasing her debut album Maid of Constant Sorrow.
Around that time she would take her classical piano training and angelic voice to Denver, Colorado and Hartford, Connecticut and soon after Greenwich Village, New York City, where she became a popular force on the emerging folk music scene.
On her early albums Collins, now known for her eclectic and even experimental taste in music and her love affair with lyrics, mostly sang traditional folk songs, tunes penned by Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and songs (some of them unreleased at the time) by fellow Greenwich Villagers and folkies such as Dylan, Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton, Theo Bikel, Richard Farina and Canada’s Ian Tyson (Ian & Sylvia).
Aside from earning Stephen Sondheim a Grammy (as a songwriter) for her astounding 1970s recording of his Broadway ballad “Send in the Clowns,” being the inspiration for Crosby, Stills Nash & Young’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” her tireless social activism and her strong musical relationships around the world, one of Collins’ greatest achievements is suggesting an established Canadian novelist and poet named Leonard Cohen to begin writing songs.
She encouraged the now legendary Cohen to start writing songs, and he’s now regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of our time. She also recorded many of Cohen’s songs on her albums (“Suzanne,” “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” “Bird on a Wire”) including her most recent one. “Eventually he got a record contract [with Columbia] due to the success of my [early] recordings of his songs,” she says. “And [now] I finally got to sing ‘Hallelujah,’ ” she says of recording the Cohen song with Bhiman on Strangers Again. “Hallelujah!"
“We owe each other a great deal, Leonard and I and we’re both very grateful and we’ve remained friends.”
It was Cohen, says Collins, who initially got her started writing her own material. “He asked me why I wasn’t,” she recalls. “It’s the Socratic message; you ask questions. And I had never thought of it; I had never done it. So, I answered his question by writing my first song, which was ‘Since You Asked’ [which appears on the Wildflowers album] and I’ve continued to write songs and I’ve written a number of songs for a brand new project, which is coming out in April .
Collins says the project hasn’t been officially announced yet, but tells The Grapevine that it will be released on her label and will pair her with another singer- songwriter, both singing songs they’ve written together for the album.
The album—songs of which she will perform at the Levoy on Friday, December 18, in Millville, along with material from her three holiday-related albums and songs from throughout her career—features Collins dueting with a smorgasbord of male singers, including Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn, Glen Hansard, Jimmy Buffett and Jeff Bridges.
“I just thought of all the people I’d like to sing with and called them up and they all said ‘yes,’” Collins says. “The only one who really said ‘no’ was Randy [Newman].” And that’s because, Collins says, the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter didn’t feel his voice would stand up next to hers.
“I also asked, I didn’t get around to singing it, but I also reached out to Tom Waits because I’ve discovered a new song of his, which I’ll have to do further down the road.”
Collins asked the singers on Strangers to either choose a tune to sing with her or sing a song of her own choosing. She wound up singing a Newman song (“Feels Like Home”) with Jackson Browne, “Send in the Clowns” with Don McLean, James Taylor’s “Belfast to Boston” with Cohn and Tyson’s “Someday Soon” with Jimmy Buffett, who Collins says was very specific about wanting to sing that song with her.
Of all the stellar tracks on the album, the performance of a song called “Miracle River” with McDonald is her favorite, she says.
Collins says she plays “everywhere”— venues of all sizes, indoors, outdoors, revered musical halls around the world, and especially intimate theaters such as Millville’s Levoy.
“I think they’re very important,” she says. “First, because a lot of them are historic and, secondly, I think they really add a great value to the community, and when everybody gets together to restore them I think it’s quite amazing.”
Expect a few surprises from Collins at the Levoy.
Throughout her entire career, she has not only been shining a light on little-known songwriters, but under-appreciated songs as well.
On her 1993 album, Judy Collins Sings Bob Dylan ... Just Like a Woman, for example—“He loved it,” she says proudly—she not only interpreted the master song- writer’s “hits,” but also lesser-known gems such as “Sweetheart Like You,” “I Believe in You” and the 1985 treasure “Dark Eyes.”
“I’ve started doing that [song] again and I might sing it [in Millville]. I think that would be nice to do. Great song.
What does Collins think the reason is her latest album is her first album in 33 years to chart on Billboard?
“Oh, I don’t know,” she says. “People just wake up and they remember and they get it and ... who knows?”
Could it be that in the trying and scary times we’re living in, people are turning to a voice that has been delivering beauty, grace, agelessness, hope and healing for so long?
“Well, I’ve always done that,” she allows. “So I don’t know why today is different. Yes, I think it’s a good album, but I think I’ve made many good albums. I mean, yes, it’s high quality; yes, it’s unusual; yes, it’s wonderful. But maybe it’s adding all these well-known and seasoned peers of mine, most of whom have been around about as long as I have doing what they do. Maybe there’s a synchronicity about that, but I certainly like it and it was certainly exciting to do it.”
Along with updating her Facebook page—she loves flowers and cats, apparently—Collins reads the reviews of her albums on Amazon and considers those more meaningful than what’s written in the press.
“They really mean the most to me,” she says. “They’re extremely complimentary, interesting, thoughtful letters. They really say [it all].”
SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source based in Millville, New Jersey that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.