Listening to Judy Collins forceful rendering of folk ballads, circa 1961, floods the memory with smoky coffee houses and campus "hoots." Collins sang at the Golden Vanity in Boston and Gerde's Folk City in New York, along side blues' men like Dave Van Ronk. It was at this latter club that Jac Holzman of Elektra records informed Collins that it was time to record her debut. A few weeks later, she entered the studio with guitarist Fred Hellerman and Erik Darling from the Weavers and cut A Maid of Constant Sorrow. Unlike her later albums which included singer-songwriter material, both her debut and Golden Apples of the Sun, recorded in 1962, stick close to traditional material. Bread and butter songs like "The Rising of the Moon" and "I Know Where I'm Going" sit snuggly beside rare-fare like "Wars of Germany" and "The Prickilie Bush." Collins, like Joan Baez, turns the everyday into the extraordinaire with her vibrant delivery. Her treatment of "Sailor's Life" and "John Riley" respects tradition while giving these songs a contemporary feel. It is easy to agree, listening to Collins' first two albums side by side, with writer Jacques Vassal's assertion that Golden Apples of the Sun is the stronger of the two. "The difference lies far more in the intensity of the singing than in the songs that are sung," he writes. The soulful "Twelve Gates to the City," for instance, sounds like it's been filtered through a familiarity with Odetta's forceful approach. Collins confidently undertakes "Christ Child Lullaby" a cappella, and adds an affected tremor to the "Great Selchie of Shule Skerry," giving this tragedy a fragile air. Maids & Golden Apples is an enjoyable release and also an important one: both albums have been out of print for 30 years. Revival fans, Collins' fans, and anyone who enjoys beautifully sung ballads, will want to grab a copy.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.