The titletrack of "Winter Stories"
As The New York Times noted last month, Judy Collins is 80—and still performing 120 shows a year.
But the hook for the feature was the Nov. 29 release of her latest album Winter Stories, a collaboration with Norwegian folk singer-songwriter Jonas Fjeld--and with backing by American bluegrass group Chatham County Line, with whom Fjeld previously recorded three albums. It follows two other recent collaborative albums from Collins: the Grammy-nominated Silver Skies Blue with singer-songwriter Ari Hest (2016) and Everybody Knows with Stephen Stills (2017).
The songs on Winter Stories were “very easy” to find, says Collins.
“‘Fallow Way’ is a song I wrote and recorded a few years ago,” she says, proudly adding that she later received a fan letter from Pete Seeger complimenting her on her songwriting. She also contributed the new album tracks “Mountain Girl” and “The Blizzard.”
From Fjeld came the titletrack, “Frozen North,” “Sweet Refrain,” and “Bury Me with My Guitar,” also “Angels in the Snow,” which Collins recorded previously, for her 2013 album Christmas with Judy Collins.
“`River’ is Joni Mitchell’s, and ‘The Highwayman,’ of course, is Jimmy Webb’s,” continues Collins, who, of course, has previously recorded major songs by both (respectively, “Both Sides Now” and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”). “‘Northwest Passage’ is by [late Canadian folk singer-songwriter] Stan Rogers, and is an anthem in Canada. So it’s a mixture.”
Collins notes that as a folk music artist herself who has played before with banjoists and fiddlers, recording with a bluegrass band was hardly a stretch. In fact, her 2015 Strangers Again duets album yielded a bluegrass chart entry with Willie Nelson in “When I Go,” which was instrumentally marked by banjo backing.
With a lustrous production, Winter Stories showcases one of popular music’s great voices (in addition to Fjeld’s and Chatham County Line’s musicianship). Collins actually told the Times that she’s a much better singer now--but who can argue?
“Maybe it’s only in my understanding in what I do,” she declares, “but nobody on the outside can really understand how much work and oversight it takes if you’re going to stay with it for 60 years! But you name it—it’s all better.”
Than again, with over 60 years of artistry behind her, Collins is truly ageless. She’s just wrapped up her “Vanguard Residency” at Joe’s Pub in Greenwich Village, during which she presented several artists at the top showcase club. She also celebrated the release of Winter Stories with a performance there together with Fjeld and Chatham County Line.
Forthcoming next year is a coffee table book, and a new album of her original songs.
“There’s always something in the future,” Collins concludes, “always, always, and forever.”