Judy Collins

Hard Times for Lovers

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After scoring an unexpected chart hit with her rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" and the accompanying Judith album in 1975, Judy Collins seemed to lose career and musical momentum on her follow-up, Bread and Roses. Hard Times for Lovers was an attempt to recapture the momentum of the Judith album and also to update her image. The latter mostly took the form of a striking front-and-back nude photo of Collins (discreetly cropped and framed) on the album's cover; the design boosted her already high stock among adherents of the woman's movement, but engendered some controversy in more politically conservative circles. The musical content, however, was about half of what it should have been -- the title track (authored by Hugh Prestwood) was moderately catchy and memorable, and Collins also covered material by Randy Newman, Carole Bayer Sager, the Eagles, and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but there was little excitement or tension to any of the material here, and her voice sounded thin and strained at times. The track that should have elicited the greatest interest, Stephen Sondheim's "I Remember Sky" -- from a lost ABC television-spawned musical called Evening Primrose -- was strangely under-recorded which, coupled with a lack of richness in Collins' singing, left it intrinsically haunting (a fundamental attribute of the composition itself) but pale and inaccessible. "Starmaker" was another good tune that Collins simply failed to carry all the way in the manner that she had with "Send in the Clowns." "Dorothy," by Hugh Prestwood, is a beautiful and fascinating piece of Oz-ephemera inspired by L. Frank Baum's books and the MGM movie, with a gorgeous chorus, and is arguably -- along with the title cut -- the most successful song on the album. Perhaps the strangest part of the album was its second side, which offered a pair of film-related songs associated with a pair of affliction-based romances, Gilbert Cates' disastrous The Promise and Donald Wrye's more successful Ice Castles. Unfortunately, neither was a terribly inspiring recording. Only on the final track, Collins' rendition of Rodgers & Hart's "Where or When," does she really hint at what could have been for this album, her singing and the arrangement evoking depth, power, and beauty somewhat reminiscent but still short of the Judith LP. [Note: This was the only original '70s-era Collins album that wasn't remastered by WEA during the mid-'90s.]

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