Simply two of the best folk albums of the Sixties.
Wildflowers (1967) was the classier, classicier-sounding of the two. Includes two Joni Mitchells (including the best-ever version of “Both Sides Now”), three Leonard Cohens (including the best-ever version of “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”), a 14th century ballad, a Jacques Brel tune, and three by Judy herself (each one remarkably pretty).
The orchestral arrangements, with minimal keyboard work, by Joshua Rifkin are romantic and lush at times. These are all songs about lovers’ relationships. I saw her perform these live (without orchestra and played with a backup bassist on piano and guitar) at UMSU, University of Manitoba, in the winter of 1968. She was utterly fantastic–best live performance by a woman I have ever seen.
Who Knows Where the Time Goes (1968) was the stunning follow-up to the previous album. Judy moved fully into folk-rock with a touch of country here-and-there, There were two more songs by Cohen and tunes by Dylan, Robin Williamson (of The Incredible String Band), Rolf Kempf, Sandy Denny, and an amazing version of the old folk chestnut “Pretty Polly”– a passionate tale of love and murder. Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon”, played pure country-style, became another 45 hit, like “Both Sides Now”, and is, by the way, the best-ever version of Ian’s classic.
Judy’s gorgeous voice alternately floats and soars amazingly throughout the LP. I doubt that most women singers could ever reproduce or do justice to the sonic landscape of her vocals on this album, which were a big, noticeable stretch beyond Wildflowers‘ more simple beauty.
Stephen Stills was the love of her life at this point and his mark is on much of this album (to the point that she even wears his cowboy hat in the liner notes!) Stills played acoustic and electric guitars as well as electric bass, and appeared in her backup band of the time. This was right before he helped form Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and released his own memoir-homage of Judy: the powerful “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” with CSN.
But the album is mainly Judy’s, of course, and she delivers very free-form supernatural versions of “Hello, Hooray”, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, “First Boy I Loved”, and the knockout punch on “Pretty Polly”. All four have great lyrics to boot.
Definitely the pinnacle of her long and notable career as one of the reigning queens of folk (along with Joan Baez, still similarly active on the concert trail of late).
Her 2011 memoir Sweet Judy Blue Eyes is a very entertaining review of the sixties and seventies, in particular. She covers all her ups and downs, including her much-missed blind father and son Clark’s tragic suicide. There is an even more entertaining CD book available with Judy herself reading. The latter is highly recommended for any fan or anyone interested in those folky times.
Judy was also boldly ahead of her time in candid marketing and her beautifully- photographed 1979 album Hard Times for Lovers, easily outdoes the sexy marketing of various female recording artists today as you can see below.
Judy Collins: a remarkable, honest, confident, multi-talented woman who has always made a gift of herself to her audiences and the world.