Home Again

Judy Collins

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Home Again Review

by William Ruhlmann

In 1966, Judy Collins fans were probably startled by the opening of her In My Life LP, as flutes heralded the beginning of a Baroque-style orchestration for a cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," signaling that Collins was trying something different after her years as a folksinger. A similar surprise may have been engendered by the first sounds on her 17th and last album of new material for Elektra Records, Home Again, as electronic blips introduced her cover of Yaz's "Only You." Resembling the synth pop duo's own 1982 original, Collins' "Only You" signaled that this was not your mother's Judy Collins album. At 45, Collins was among the last graduates of the folk revival to remain a front line artist on a major record label, with peers such as Joan Baez long sidelined. She had maintained her status by adapting herself, notably moving toward becoming more of a traditional pop singer with her popular 1975 album Judith, with its hit cover of Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns." But subsequent albums had diminishing sales, and Home Again represented an attempt to meet the marketplace of the mid-‘80s on Collins' terms. Produced by jazz-pop record executives Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen, it was full of well-crafted songs in AC arrangements, with the occasional use of synth pop, all in search of a hit. "Sweetheart on Parade" was a new Elton John song, and a good one. "Shoot First" was Collins' own composition, a sardonic examination of gun violence and media, set to the most aggressive of the synth pop tracks. "Don't Say Love" had an electronic reggae accompaniment, seemingly ready for its MTV video. Collins concluded with another original, the love song "Dream On," and the hopeful "The Best Is Yet to Come." (Included as a sop to the record company, which initially rejected the album, was a duet with country singer T.G. Sheppard, "Home Again," co-written and produced by Michael Masser, that became a minor AC and country singles chart entry.) Old Judy Collins fans were not likely to feel at home with much of Home Again, but the album was a bold attempt to reinvent the singer for a new generation of fans, and she certainly couldn't be criticized for trying something different; that was what had kept her music fresh for more than two decades. As it happened, however, the attempt failed, and the LP proved to be her final release in her 23-year association with Elektra Records. [The 2010 reissue features liner notes by Richie Unterberger that benefit from a fresh interview with Collins.]

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