Demon Music Group’s Edsel label has followed up its July release of Judy Collins’ The Elektra Albums Volume One (1961-1968) with a second volume available now. The Elektra Albums Volume Two (1970-1984) finishes up the artist’s Elektra Records tenure, comprising these nine releases on CD in their original sequences:
- Whales and Nightingales (1970)
- Living (1971)
- True Stories and Other Dreams (1973)
- Judith (1975)
- Bread and Roses (1976)
- Hard Times for Lovers (1979)
- Running for My Life (1980)
- Times of Our Lives (1982)
- Home Again (1984)
Whales and Nightingales, Collins’ first album of the 1970s, continued her collaboration with arranger-conductor Joshua Rifkin. Produced by Mark Abramson, the album was a return to the artist’s folk roots with traditional melodies alongside those by Joan Baez (“A Song for David’), Bob Dylan (“Time Passes Slowly”), and Pete Seeger (“Oh, I Had a Golden Thread”), and even a couple of chansons from Jacques Brel (“Sons Of,” “Marieke”). But the biggest impacts were made by the sea shanty “Farewell to Tarwathie,” which Collins arranged to the accompaniment of humpback whales, and a touching a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Collins’ ethereal voice was joined by an earthy choir including Abramson, label head Jac Holzman, and her then-flame Stacy Keach. “Amazing Grace” became Collins’ biggest hit since 1968’s “Both Sides Now,” reaching No. 15 Pop/No. 5 AC on the Billboard charts. Clearly the Vietnam-era audience was ready for the kind of comfort the song provided.
Rather than immediately follow up the success of Whales and Nightingales, Collins released her second concert LP, not titled Live but rather, Living. A small rhythm section consisting of Susan Evans, Gene Taylor, and Richard Bell joined her along with guest Ry Cooder and a chorus for a set of favorites from Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Ian Tyson. Collins’ self-penned “Song for Judith” and “Easy Times,” authored with Keach, were also featured on the intimate disc. No new release emerged in 1972 from the artist, so Elektra issued the Colors of the Day compilation (not included in this box). Collins returned in January 1973 with True Stories and Other Dreams, co-produced with Abramson. The emphasis was on original songs; five of Collins’ compositions were featured, including “Martin,” a reflection on a friend lost to suicide, the odes to family members “Holly Ann” and “Secret Gardens,” and “Che,” about the controversial Argentine revolutionary. Tom Paxton’s “The Hostage” chronicled the Attica State Prison riot from the point of view of a dead prison guard. Unsurprisingly, Valerie Carter’s sweet and sly “Cook with Honey” was selected as the single over the other, more sober material; it gave Judy another top 40 Pop/top 10 AC hit.
True Stories set the stage for what would become the biggest album of Collins’ career. David Geffen had just taken over from Jac Holzman as head of Elektra, and while he purged much of the label’s roster, Judy had made the cut. Geffen encouraged her to pursue a commercial direction, and Arif Mardin was enlisted as producer and primary arranger-conductor. Phil Ramone manned the board as engineer. The result was a stunningly eclectic offering sonically in tune with the day’s prevailing pop sounds (players included such New York session vets as David Spinozza, Hugh McCracken, Kenny Ascher, Steve Gadd, Ralph MacDonald, and Randy Brecker). April 1975’s Judith introduced an indelible reading of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” plus diverse songs (some of which suited Collins’ luminous instrument more than others) from Danny O’Keefe (“Angel Spread Your Wings”), Steve Goodman (“City of New Orleans”), Wendy Waldman (“Pirate Ships”), The Rolling Stones (“Salt of the Earth”), and Collins herself (“Houses,” “Born to the Breed,” and the Ellington tribute “Song for Duke”). Two standards – E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Jay Gorney’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” and Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” – both proved their eternal relevance.
But the album’s biggest contribution to Collins’ oeuvre was one of two songs arranged for her by Broadway’s Jonathan Tunick (he also handled “I’ll Be Seeing You”): her sensitive take on Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.” Tunick had orchestrated the original version that opened on Broadway in February 1973 sung by Glynis Johns (Mary Poppins) as actress Desiree Armfeldt. Collins’ emotionally direct performance of Sondheim’s bittersweet lyrics resonated with listeners. It became a top 40 hit and earned her a Grammy nomination; Sondheim won for Song of the Year. Two years later, when it was reissued on a compilation, it climbed to an even higher top 20 peak. Today, it’s one of Collins’ signature songs.
Mardin and Ramone returned for 1976’s Bread and Roses, and like its predecessor(s), it blended socially relevant material with contemporary pop offerings from Elton John and Andrew Gold, as well as another dip into the Leonard Cohen songbook with “Take This Longing.” In place of the Ellington tribute was the Duke’s own “I Didn’t Know About You,” and Bernard Ighner’s oft-recorded “Everything Must Change” was adapted from its R&B element in a delicate Mardin arrangement and affectingly sung.
Collins spent 1978 addressing her personal life, and was back in February 1979 with Hard Times for Lovers, produced by Gary Klein and arranged by Lee Holdridge and Nick DeCaro. Fitting Klein’s C.V. (which included crossover hits with Dolly Parton and Glen Campbell, and smash albums with Barbra Streisand), Hard Times was a pop-oriented affair, seemingly designed to recreate the magic of Judith. It boasted a typically astute offering from Randy Newman (his touching “Marie”), Eagles’ “Desperado,” and Carole Bayer Sager and Bruce Roberts’ ballad “Starmaker” (previously recorded by Roberts and Paul Anka, and later covered by The Kids from Fame) as well as the Rodgers and Hart classic “Where or When” and Sondheim’s haunting “I Remember” from the television musical Evening Primrose. Most curiously, Collins the two Academy Award-nominated songs introduced by Melissa Manchester in 1978 back-to-back on the LP: Marvin Hamlisch and Sager’s “Through the Eyes of Love (Theme from Ice Castles)” and David Shire and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” from The Promise. The soft-rock/MOR arrangement of the former stripped it of much of its power, while the latter was a bit more suited to Collins’ airy style.
The artist kicked off the 1980s with her self-produced Running for My Life, stands up today as an underrated gem playing to all of her strengths including traditional folk (“Bright Morning Star”), Sondheim (the gorgeous pair of “Pretty Women” and “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from his then-most recent musical, Sweeney Todd), and chansons (a revival of Brel’s “Marieke”). She breathed new life into Harold Rome’s 1959 showtune “Anyone Would Love You,” tried her hand at country with Larry Gatlin’s “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today,” and even slick pop with Peter Allen and Dean Pitchford’s “I Could Really Show You Around.” Three original compositions were highlighted by “Wedding Song,” and only the most cold-hearted wouldn’t crack a smile at her tender take on Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher’s Muppets favorite “The Rainbow Connection.”
Hugh Prestwood, who had penned strong tracks for Hard Times for Lovers and Running For My Life, was also featured on 1982’s Times of Our Lives, half of which was dedicated to Collins’ own songs. Arif Mardin and Jonathan Tunick both were represented as arrangers on the LP produced by Collins with Lewis Hahn. She turned in an early recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Trevor Nunn, and T.S. Eliot’s “Memory,” but any commercial potential for the big ballad was squelched by Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow’s competing covers. The final album on Edsel’s box, 1984’s Home Again, quietly marked the end of Judy’s Elektra tenure via a mixed bag of synthpop (Yazoo’s “Only You”), country-pop (the T.G. Sheppard duet “Home Again,” produced and co-written by hitmaker Michael Masser), and cabaret (Amanda McBroom’s “From Where I Stand”) plus tunes from Elton John and Gary Osborne, Clifford T. Ward, Graham Lyle, and Randy Goodrum. Dave Grusin, who produced the album with his partner Larry Rosen, co-wrote “Shoot First,” a synth-flecked rumination on gun violence that is still sadly appropriate today.
Judy Collins would continue to record for a variety of labels; her most recent album, 2017’s Everybody Knows, reunited her with ex-boyfriend Stephen Stills on an acclaimed set in a folk-rock vein. The Elektra Albums: Volume Two, like the first volume, is housed in a sturdy, durable slipcase with a squarebound, 40-page full-color booklet of notes by Mick Houghton with original credits and liner notes, and copious illustrations. Each album is in a standard (not Japanese-style) paper sleeve with a custom label, and sound has again been handled to fine effect by Phil Kinrade. The box is a celebration of a period of great musical change for the famously eclectic and adventurous artist, and a beautiful tribute to her resplendent artistry.