It is so difficult to discuss Judy Collins without getting mired down in superlatives. Since the 1960's she has graced us with her beautiful voice clear as a Colorado mountain spring and has always spoken out for the rights of all people. Once again she has given us such a fine collection of 12 songs, five of which are her own compositions, and Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." Some of the songs are humorous--"Sally Go 'Round The Roses"-- there's a love song or two, Judy's "You Can't Buy Love," for example. For the most part, however, many of these selections are spiritual introspections with references to God and the end of life not often seen before in Ms. Collins' music. Not to worry. She apparently hasn't jumped off a cliff and joined a cult. She is I believe a good Episcopalian and actually invokes both gods and goddesses in one selection, a beautiful tribute to her husband, "Wedding Song (Song for Louis)."
"Singing Lessons," the first cut on the CD, written by Ms. Collins (one of my favorites) is a prayer for God to "Teach me how to sing." That prayer obviously was answered long ago. In "I Can't Cry Hard Enough," written by David Williams and Marvin Etzoni, the singer is going to live her life/"Like everyday is the last." In clearly the most poignant selection Ms. Collins sees her "darling boy" in a crowd of strangers "So familiar and dear to me/I run towards you." She strikes a universal chord here as all of us have seen a stranger in a crowd who looks so much like a departed loved one that we almost cry out in anguish. And we are reminded once more that no mother should have to attend the funeral of her child. The Copland "Lincoln Portrait" at first seems strangely ill-selected. On the other hand-- and I certainly don't know Ms. Collins' motive in including this work-- why not include a tribute to our greatest president, someone else so good with words and who also believed in freedom? Certainly we as citizens have a right to hold our 43rd and war president up against the 16th, another war president, and ask how he ranks. This beautiful CD ends with a hymn by the 19th Century gospel and hymn writer/Baptist minister Robert Lowry who wrote "Christ Arose","Nothing But The Blood", "I Need Thee Every Hour" and "Shall We Gather at the River." Ms. Collins sings a stunning a capella arrangement with a backup choir of Lowry's "How Can I Keep From Singing." When you listen to this CD, you have the answer.
Ms. Collins accompanies herself on piano on many of these cuts, reminding us that she was trained as a classical pianist. Apropos of the title "Portrait of an American Girl" there are many photographs included with the notes of Judy as both a very young child and teenager, along with snapshots of her family. Finally, Annie Liebovitz has done stunning portraits of the artist for the front and back of this CD.
This is a required recording for those of us who love Ms. Collins, who have often measured out our lives in listening to her recordings. One could do much worse.