By Alix Cohen.  . .

Anticipation is palpable as Judy Collins’ still ethereal a capella voice wafts over the auditorium from offstage with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Dressed in signature black, a halo of white hair framing her face, Collins welcomes us with “Mountain Girl.”: Mountain girl in the city/You’ve been gone far too long/ Find your way back to the mountains/Where you know you belong… (Accompanied by Chatham County Line). She’s down an octave but pristine, the familiar slip/slide between notes making us feel at home. “I want you to know you’re looking at The American Idol of 1956,” the artist quips.

To many, if not all in this audience, Collins represents pivotal memories of youth. We remember her introducing Joni Mitchell songs, bringing the west into our lives with personal experience, association with Bob Dylan, political stands. We remember Stephen Stills’ Judy Blue Eyes and sing-alongs of Amazing Grace at the end of her concerts. She was a where-were-you-when-you-heard part of history but has in no way retired. Recent CDs with Ari Hest and Chatham County Line as well as a new recording of her own songs in February testify to continued creativity.

Toshi Reagon

After Stan Rogers’ rousing “Northwest Passage,” however, Collins disappears. For almost an hour, our captive audience listens to Toshi Reagon (with Juliette Jones- violin, Riza Printup-harp, Shirazette Tinnin-percussion) and Chatham County Line (Dave Wilson- guitar & vocals, John Teer-mandolin & fiddle, Greg Readling-bass, Dan Hall-drums) – Reagon has a big gospel/blues alto. Original material exhibits heart and power, if little melody. Chatham County Line presents a fine country/ western sound, but 2/3 of lyrics are lost to either hot mikes or accents.

When Collins returns after intermission, you can practically hear sighs of relief. “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell) arrives with new, more grounded vocal than that to which we’re accustomed. “City of New Orleans” (Steve Goodman) is a foot-tapping, head-bobbing tune. The show’s evocative title song, “Winter Stories” (Jonas Fjeld/Russell Walden) brings us into a universal present: I feel a shiver through the curtain/There’s silver tracery on the pane/And all I think I know for certain/Is somehow, some way/The light will come again

Chatham County Line

Two songs spotlight the artist’s refined sound and spirit:  Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” which she dedicates to the recently passed Master, was popularized by Collins. Sondheim called it his only “hit.” Beautiful and tender, it emerges in tandem with MD Russell Walden’s gorgeous piano from which we hear too little tonight. And Collins’ own story/song “The Blizzard” for which she accompanies herself on lush piano.

“River” (Joni Mitchell) and a textured, vigorous “Highwayman” (Jimmy Webb) take us to a group version of “Amazing Grace.”

Photos by Sachyn Mital Best

Judy Collins: Winter Stories
MD/Piano- Russell WaldenGuests: Toshi Reagon, Chatham County Line

Winter Stories: Judy Collins, Jonas Fjeld with Special Guests Chatham County Line CD:

The Town Hall Venue Events Tickets HERE

(Lead Photo: John Teer, Russell Walden, Judy Collins, Dave Wilson)