Friday, December 12, 2008

Judy Collins' new album to benefit the JFA

Judy Collins' record label is releasing a new tribute album, and it features a track by a member of the JFA family, Jimmy Norman.  She has generously directed album proceeds to benefit the Jazz Foundation.  Thank you, Judy!

New Sounds: Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins

Maria Kotovych /

With her patrician bone structure and otherworldly crystalline blue eyes, Seattle-born Judy Collins should have been an unlikely ally for the struggles that defined the folk music in the early '60s, the labour and civil rights movements, but she not only applied her tremulous soprano and classical piano training to the genre revived by the likes of Woody Guthrie, she also displayed her gifts for lyrical eloquence and arrangements that bathed her messages in a quiet ecstasy of hope. 
At 69, Collins is still an active performer, but she's lent her songs and her Wildflower record label to a tribute album in support of the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization that fits in with the compassionate motif that has underscored her entire career, helping out aging and broke jazz and blues musicians. 
Born to the Breed slants towards the traditionalists, with many of Collins' best-known and loved songs given over to capable, if occasionally dull, homage by 15 emerging and established artists. 
Only one is even remotely far-out in its interpretation—a seven-minute overwrought odyssey inexplicably contributed by the singer of '90s rockers Puressence. Perhaps if the rest of the record had more peaks and valleys, it wouldn't seem as jarring, but with the balance of the artists faithful to Collins' more gentile renderings, it stands out, for the worse.
The remainder of the artists represents a range of voices, eras and practices: Rufus Wainwright turns "Albatross" into a lovely Kate Bush-ish ethereal construction of swirling piano; Collins' contemporary Joan Baez tackles "Since You've Asked," lending what should be a love song an almost prickly contrarianism; and Leonard Cohen addresses the same song with only his voice, stripped down to nothing and delivering it as poetry rather than song. 
Iranian emerging folkie Ali Eskandarian, Pretenders' firecracker Chrissie Hynde, veteran songwriter Shawn Colvin and achy-voiced bluegrass workhorse Jim Lauderale all offer impeccable and distinct interpretations, while the irrepressibly awesome Dolly Parton sounds like she's having the time of her life on "Fisherman's Song."
The absolute standout, though, is Jimmy Webb's elegiac rendition of "Fallow Way"—surely one of Collins' most beautiful songs, as close to a hymn as a secular work can be. In a gorgeously drawn analogy to winter, Collins talks of "learning to love the fallow way"—waiting for a spring of change and healing with a Zen certainty of its arrival and a careful ear to its lessons. It's the ideal song for this oeuvre, at once elucidating the intimate and personal heartaches but just as useful and powerful in a social justice context. Webb, an acclaimed songwriter and one of those musicians' musician-types, has remade it in that same spirit, buoyed by his worshipful singing swaddled in gently swelling piano. V
Various artists 
Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins