Album + Compilation
The 'celebrity tribute album' is a rather tired concept and can be the musical equivalent of reality TV game shows aimed at rejuvenating sagging media profiles. Who answers the calls to contribute and what's their motivation? Such projects usually tell us as much about the participants as their subjects.
Judy Collins is an icon of American song and first emerged during the early 60s folk boom. Initially known as an interpretive singer, she soon diversified into country, show tunes, pop and 'art music', also developing as an accomplished songwriter. Still touring and recording, she performed in the UK as recently as this summer. Born To The Breed features fifteen of Collins' compositions performed by a mix of long term colleagues, newcomers currently signed to her Wildflower label and several less explicable presences.
Joan Baez's reading of Since You've Asked makes perfect sense, and sounds uncannily like Collins, while Leonard Cohen's spoken word reprise of it reminds us that Collins was one of the first artists to record his work, and highlights her frequently wonderful lyrics. She combines emotional literacy with storytelling flair and a painterly eye for the natural world, as Fallow Way shows: ''While deep beneath the glistening snow/ The black earth dreams of violets/I'll learn to love the fallow way''.
Even if his slightly over-earnest vibrato underlines why he's much better known as a writer than performer, Jimmy Webb seems right for Fallow Way; Collins once recorded his The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Dolly Parton brings her trademark vivacious spirit to Fisherman's Song, and Rufus Wainwright's overwrought vocals can't quite detract from Albatross. It's hard to see what Chrissie Hynde is doing here, although she acquits herself reasonably well on My Father. Blandness looms in places (Kenny White, Shawn Colvin) and Bernadette Peters brings a schmaltzy Broadway vibe to Trust Your Heart. Among the more obscure artists, The Webb Sisters and Amy Speace impress, but James Mudriczki of deservedly obscure Mancunian indie band Puressence buries Che in bombastic programming and histrionic vocals. A mixed bag, then, but a cut above the average of its kind.