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An Evening with Judy Collins

The legendary singer's annual show at the Cafe Carlyle once again displays her brilliant musicality paired with her refreshing anything-can-happen approach to performing. logo
Judy Collins
(© James Veysey/Camera Press)
Few performers seem as truly comfortable on stage, or can make an audience feel as comfortable, as Judy Collins does -- as was clearly evidenced by the legendary pop-folk singer's opening night of An Evening with Judy Collins, her now-annual engagement at the Café Carlyle that has become something of a religious pilgrimage for her admirers.

What makes Collins' show so sui generis is the pairing of her brilliant musicality with her anything-might-happen approach. She consistently interrupts a train of thought to embrace a tangent or deliver a snippet or verse of a beloved tune; she'll riff on a recent event, like the Grammy Awards or the passing of Sir George Shearing.

If you're really lucky, she'll pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat -- which, on opening night, meant a surprise appearance by Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Glen Hansard (of Once fame), whom she apparently met just a few days ago at a music festival.

Be warned, she can be a bit of a tease; she sang some of -- but not all -- of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" as gorgeously as she did nearly five decades ago, but not even a note of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" or "Both Sides Now," even after bringing them up in conversation.

Still, what songs she chose to treat the crowd to were sparkling gems, each displaying another facet of her fascinating musical personality. The élan of Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning," gave way to John Denver's "Country Road (Take Me Home)" paired with a not-so-somber "Leavin' on a Jet Plane." Later on, a stunning version of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" (one of the many singalongs) was slyly paired with a brilliant take on Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust," a razor-sharp dissection of the pair's love affair.

And it's not her contemporaries who bring out the best in Collins; she can sing anything or anyone with equal assurance: Jacques Brel's "Marieke" (one of three of the master's tunes performed in sequence); John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Norwegian Wood," Stephen Sondheim's "I Remember" and "Send In the Clowns" and Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's "Over the Rainbow" were just some of the carefully chosen songs enlightened by her crystalline voice and interpretive magic.

And yet, there's nothing quite like Collins singing Collins -- even if on opening night, she only did two of her classics: the gorgeous "Since You Asked" and her epic tune "The Blizzard" -- about a woman facing the end of a love affair amid a massive snowstorm -- which she performs with an almost unfathomable mixture of pathos and defiance.

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