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Judy Collins at the Café Carlyle

The legendary singer's engagement showcases her uniquely bright, crystalline voice and superb interpretive skills.

Judy Collins
(© Shonna Veleska)
"Who Knows Where the Time Goes" is the title of a song that Judy Collins sings in her show that opened Tuesday night at the Café Carlyle. It was back in the 1960s when Collins first performed in New York City at Gerty's Folk City. Where does the time go? Ironically, if you close your eyes and listen to Collins sing today, it might seem as if time has stood still. Collins' uniquely bright, crystalline voice sounds much the same as it did in her youth.

It is a long way, however, from that Greenwich Village club where she began, that also spawned the likes of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Phil Ochs, to these swanky Upper East Side confines. But even here Collins continues to be a rebel -- her show breaks just about every conventional rule of cabaret, except the most important one of all: Be yourself on stage. You get Judy Collins -- and isn't that who you're paying to see?

The rule she most defiantly breaks is the one that says don't do too many ballads. You need to keep the energy up with plenty of up-tempo tunes. But Collins' show is virtually one ballad after another. Who cares when she's singing her signature songs like "Both Sides Now," "Someday Soon," and "Send in the Clowns."

The show, however, is a not a greatest hits extravaganza. Instead, it's a musical snapshot of an artist who is still blooming with talent. She is savvy enough to salt her show with the songs her fans will always long to hear, but she is also gifted enough to fill out her act with a wide variety of impressive ballads from throughout her long and illustrious career; songs that reach right up to the very recent past.

An accomplished songwriter and pianist, as well as a great pop/folk interpreter, Collins' show features a considerable number of her own creations. All of them are sharpened by an acute lyric specificity that is transformed into a sort of lyric poetry when set to music and performed in her soulful soprano. If "Kingdom Come," a song that tells the story of a wake for fallen firefighters who died on 9/11, is powerful largely because of its content, her more personal story in her song "The Blizzard" may well be the greatest song ever written about surmounting a broken heart.

From the expansive song list given to the press, it's clear that every night Collins will offer a somewhat different show, picking and choosing material from a list of about twenty different numbers. One thing you can count on, though, is her closing number; she concedes she always sings the same song to end her show. The song is "Amazing Grace," which she performs a cappella. She also insists that the audience join her at the end in a sing-a-long. It was the second time she did it in the show; and frankly, once is really enough.

And as long as we're quibbling, we have never heard so much reverb used in a cabaret act in our lives. Clearly, the import is to recreate the sound of Judy Collins on a recording; it's the only artificial element in her show.

Nonetheless, Judy Collins remains an icon of the 1960s even as she has forged ahead to create lasting art in the decades since. Her show both honors the music that inspired a generation and honors all generations with its timeless artistry.


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