Songbird is a collection of Christine Collister's recordings, drawing from her work following her breakup with Clive Gregson, through its release in 1999. And while there isn't really a lot of ground to cover here considering that her solo recordings go back a mere five years and three albums, one cut from a one-off with the group Daphne's Flight, one from the out of print Georgia on Our Mind (a project to benefit the daughter of Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas), and four recently recorded tracks should be enough to entice fans. For those checking Collister out for the first time, there's plenty over the course of Songbird's 15 tracks to present a case for her talent. Cuts such as Jesse Winchester's "Blue Horizon," Tom Waits' melancholy "Broken Bicycles," Robert Wyatt's weary and haunting "Free Will and Testament," and a live version of Leiber & Stoller's "I Keep Forgetting" show a singer capable of power, beauty, and restraint. A handful of originals aside, Collister is for all intents and purposes an interpreter who generally has the knack for choosing strong material that suits her well. When there is a misstep, it has more to do with the arrangement/performance of the song than with the song itself, as with the dark repentance of Randy Newman's "Guilty," which lacks the understated power of Collister's live recording, or the heartbreak of "Can't Cry Hard Enough," which seems almost jaunty, missing the sadness and solitude of Victoria Williams, the tenderness of the Williams Brothers, or the quiet passion of Marvin Etzioni's version. Elsewhere, the acoustic guitar-driven "Tracks of My Tears" is the highlight among the new tracks, with the a cappella rendition of the Christine McVie-penned title cut close behind. Songbird may not quite be the top-to-bottom winner that Christine Collister has in her, but it still gives a good overview of one of the finest singers on the British folk-rock scene. Guests include Pentangle's Jacqui McShee on vocals and Collister's ex-employer, Richard Thompson, on guitar.
AllMusic Review by Brett Hartenbach