Judy Collins

Strangers Again

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In the four years since her previous studio LP, 2011's Bohemian, vocal icon Judy Collins added a spate of live releases and another holiday album to her prolific late-career catalog. Well into her sixth decade as a recording artist, she has little left to prove and yet she shows no signs of slowing her pace as she delivers Strangers Again, a 12-song collection of duets, all with men. The format was casual with each of her chosen counterparts given the option to either sing a song of Collins' choosing or bring his own selection to the table. While much of the material here falls pretty squarely in each vocalist's wheelhouse, there are a few surprises. With his pleasantly rough-hewn voice, actor Jeff Bridges has tended to skew toward country and roots songs in his music career, but his choice of the Leonard Bernstein-penned "Make Our Garden Grow" from the musical Candide puts both singers on common ground as they step out beyond their expected repertoire. Other tracks make perfect sense, like her duet with veteran songwriter Marc Cohn on James Taylor's poignant "Belfast to Boston" or on Randy Newman's lovely "Feels Like Home" which apparently was given to Jackson Browne when Newman politely refused to pair his limited vocal chops with Collins' still-fluid soprano. Among her well-established gentlemen peers, there are also some younger foils holding their own, with New York singer/songwriter Ari Hest offering up his own song for the title track and Norwegian indie folk crooner Thomas Dybdahl doing the same on "From Grace." Still, one the album's strongest cuts features another prolific icon whose strange, sandy tenor has dueted with the best of them. When Willie Nelson's timeless cracked tenor interweaves with Collins' dreamy musings on the moody, banjo-led "When I Go," it's the sound of two interpretive masters doing what they do best.

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