Review by Paulanne Simmons
Any time Judy Collins comes to town it’s an event. But watching her perform at Cafe Carlyle, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what’s more beguiling, her semi-sweet reminiscences, her witty, sometimes acerbic comments or her incredible voice that can still climb the scales and land on that perfect note. Perhaps it’s the ideal combination of personality and performance that makes superstars like Collins the legends they are.
Of course, although a sense of humor is a plus, when you have a voice like Collins’s, people want to hear you sing, especially all those songs that have become the fabric of our musical lives. Although Collins covers a good deal, there are sure to be disappointments. The treasure is just too vast.
Collins introduces each song with a story. Before Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” she tells the audience how she first met the young man who “was dressed poorly even for the 60s.” She sets up her own composition, “My Father,” with a tribute to the man “she still thinks of every day,” a man who overcame poverty and blindness, and is a huge influence on both her music and her life.
If Collins achieved her first major success in the folk music of the sixties, she has certainly transformed herself over the years. A good deal of her show is devoted to the songs of Stephen Sondheim, whom she first saw when he was a 9-year-old attending the theater. Her “Send in the Clowns” and “No One Is Alone” can easily break your heart.
But Collins has not forgotten her roots or the other female composers who were also part of the folk music revival that peaked in the mid-60s. When she sings Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” it’s easy to understand why her version is the one many people consider definitive. Although “Diamonds and Rust,” will always be closely associated with Joan Baez, thanks to its personal content (it’s about her relationship with Bob Dylan), Collins gives a particularly lyrical interpretation of her friend’s song.
Collins accompanies herself on her twelve-string guitar for many of the songs, backed by musical director Russell Walden, playing the piano and providing vocal harmonies. But she replaces Walden at the piano for her own haunting “Arizona.”
Collins claims the main reason musicians like her are still working is that it’s so hard to make a buck these days. But when she ascends to the stage, dressed in regal, flowing white, and proceeds to enthrall the audience with a voice that can make the angels hold their breath, we know better.
Judy Collins is at Café Carlyle through May 16, 35 East 76th Street, Manhattan; 212-744-1600, www.thecarlyle.com.