New York Times Review of Judy Collins Tribute
by Stephen Holden
The music of Judy Collins has so many aspects that any survey of her nearly-50-year career as a singer-songwriter confronts you with what might seem like multiple personalities. Here is a classically trained pianist with a folk singer's soprano who refuses to make hierarchal judgments: in her world Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Cohen, Ned Rorem, and Jimmy Webb share equal status.
A Judy Collins tribute at a Friday night gala concert at the Public Theater was a fund-raiser for Joe's Pub.
At the Public Theater on Friday Ms. Collins, joined by a dozen guests, many of them little known, performed a benefit concert for Joe's Pub, which is celebrating its 10th year. Most of the bases of her career were covered in an event that also anticipated the Oct. 28 release of "Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins" (Wildflower), a multi-artist retrospective of her songwriting career, which began in 1966, encouraged by Mr. Cohen.
The record, one of the best of its kind in the notoriously uneven tribute genre, asserts Ms. Collins's place as a significant composer of impressionist memory songs in which folk and semi-classical elements seamlessly merge. In her song lyrics Ms. Collins conjures ghostly images of people and places from her family history in rugged Rocky Mountain territory. Six of the artists from the album - Shawn Colvin, Kenny White, Amy Speace, Ali Eskandarian, James Mudriczki, and Mr. Webb - appeared on Friday.
The success of a tribute album has everything to do with casting. As stalwart as Ms. Collins sounds singing original political anthems like "Song for Sarajevo" and "Che," her demure, inspirational approach maintains a comfortable distance from the lyrics' descriptions of war and revolution. Performed by idiosyncratic male singers like Mr. Eskandrian, the Iranian-American singer who howled "Song for Sarejevo" like a frightened child huddled in an air-raid shelter, and Mr. Mudriczki, who disgorged "Che" as a feverish, slurred incantation, they assumed a new immediacy.
In concert Mr. White brought the same depth of sorrow to "Song for Martin" - Ms. Collins's reminiscence of a "gangly kid from Colorado" who introduced her to Woody Guthrie and years later committed suicide — that he brought to the album. Ms. Colvin provided a similarly intense focus to Ms. Collins's hallucinatory family memoir, ”Secret Gardens.'
Outstanding concert performances by singers not on the album, of songs not written by Ms. Collins, included Mary Gauthier's tough, twangy "Deportee," and 17-year-old Anthony da Costa's somersaulting version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." Best of all was Joe Hurley's rumbling bass-baritone version of "Send in the Clowns," whose narrator became a dissipated buffoon parading his shame with a self-lacerating sarcasm.
Near the end of the evening Ms. Collins and Mr. Webb musically tied the knot. After he performed her "Fallow Way" from the tribute album, Ms. Collins, who was in excellent voice, sang his song "Gauguin." This empathetic minibiography of the painter Paul Gauguin portrays his flight from Paris to the South Seas as the ultimate example of mankind's age-old search for paradise - a search doomed to failure as the dream hovers tantalizingly and forever out of reach.