Judy Collins

Amazing Grace

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Judy Collins' recording of the hymn "Amazing Grace" on Elektra Records, released as a single for the Christmas season of 1970, peaked at number 15 in the Billboard Hot 100. In the U.K., it was even more successful, reaching number five initially and reentering the chart repeatedly, for a remarkable cumulative stay of 67 weeks among the British best-sellers. It is no wonder, then, that in 1985, when Collins ended her 24-year tenure with Elektra, a British company, Telstar, quickly swooped in to offer her a recording contract and that the label's concept for a new album was a collection of inspirational and quasi-religious material, including re-recordings not only of "Amazing Grace," but also of Collins' hits "Both Sides Now" and "Send in the Clowns," all performed with the backing of an orchestra and choir, to be ready for the holiday season. Collins dutifully entered a London recording studio in September 1985, accompanied by producer Tony Britten, the United Kingdom Symphony Orchestra, the Stephen Hill Singers, and the Trinity Boys Choir, and came up with this LP. Britten doesn't only use the orchestra; he also brought in some pop/rock and country musicians to play on such songs as "Day by Day" from the musical Godspell and "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." At 16 tracks and clocking in at 55 minutes, this is Collins' longest LP, and it serves multiple functions, from its seasonal and inspirational functions to its reclaiming of her biggest hits. What may strike a longtime Collins fan, however, is that it marks a transition from her usual approach, in which she assembles a collection of previously unfamiliar songs along with a few of her own compositions, often employing striking arrangements, to an approach that is more conventional for an interpretive singer, particularly from the middle of the road. Previously, Collins would have been unlikely to sing the signature songs of others, such as Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or Bette Midler's "The Rose," even if those songs suited her (and they do). Here, she is willing to be more of a traditional pop singer, simply singing familiar songs in her inimitable style. So, for once, the listener can simply luxuriate in her pure, ethereal voice. While doing so, the listener can take in the album's themes of spirituality and healing, and the British listener especially will find the concluding track, that reverent English anthem "Jerusalem," with the Trinity Boys Choir soaring along, an appropriately uplifting finale.

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