Born To the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins

Various Artists

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Born To the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins Review

by William Ruhlmann

Although she is known primarily as an interpretive singer, Judy Collins has been placing her occasional compositions on her albums dating back to the inclusion of "Albatross," "Sky Fell," and "Since You Asked" (aka "Since You've Asked") on Wildflowers in 1967. The songs have appeared without fanfare, and yet their quality (consider "My Father" on 1968's Who Knows Where the Time Goes, "Secret Gardens" on 1973's True Stories and Other Dreams, and "Born to the Breed" on 1975's Judith) always suggested that, if only Collins were more prolific, she might join the ranks of the singer/songwriters whose work she celebrated in her cover recordings. Another suggestion, of course, was that if somebody just gathered together the songs she had written and recorded, it would make quite an album. Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins isn't that album exactly; it's a disc on which a group of different artists perform Collins' songs. The word "tribute" is perhaps ill-advised, not because the artists are not paying tribute -- they are -- but because this is a disc organized by Collins herself for her own record label, and calling it a tribute gives it an air of hubris; one doesn't usually put together one's own tributes, any more than one throws one's own birthday party. On the other hand, Collins certainly has an interest in promoting her own songs, and the album functions as a kind of glorified publisher's demo for that purpose. Of course, that understates the case heavily. Publishers generally do not get the likes of Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin, Chrissie Hynde, Dolly Parton, Bernadette Peters, Rufus Wainwright, Jimmy Webb, and Dar Williams to tout their wares. That these artists were willing to participate is in itself a tribute to Collins, and they show her work off to good effect, usually by applying their own styles to the material. Collins' songs are craftsmanlike efforts that are varied in form and subject matter, from the personal reflection on her son that is "Born to the Breed" to a first-person story-song like "My Father," and on to politically driven pieces like "Song to Sarajevo." But they are always carefully written and highly poetic (as Leonard Cohen's recitation of the lyrics to "Since You've Asked" at the end demonstrates), and they boast flowing, classically influenced melodies that usually seem to have been written on the piano. That compilation album of Collins singing Collins should be taken up sometime, but until then Born to the Breed will serve as a collection that demonstrates the singer is an excellent songwriter as well.

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