PORTRAIT OF AN AMERICAN GIRL. Judy Collins. 2005.
A nice, new album from Judy Collins, in which her voice, in good form, still sounds young and strong. Collins did most
but not all of the arrangements, which will remind one of more recent efforts like Colorado and City of Cities. She also contributes many of the songs, although there are also numbers by other
composers. One of the best tracks is Joni Mitchell's That Song about the Midway, and there's also a cover of Williams'
and Etzoni's I Can't Try Hard Enough -- a very nice version of a splendid
pop ballad. Bruce Cockburn's Pacing the Cage
is an interesting downbeat number and the disco-like Drops of Jupiter is a
snappy number with clever if nonsensical lyrics. Robert Lowry's How Can I Keep from Singing is pretty but derivative and not as good as the others, a little monotonous in fact. On the other hand the beautiful
Liberte – one of the best tracks on the CD -- is a stirring number from
the upcoming Broadway show Josephine. Collins also does a rendition of the
alleged golden oldie Sally Goes Round the Roses, in which she also functions
as chorus, but the okay arrangement can't disguise the fact that it's a pretty shitty song. For a change of pace – and
going from the ridiculous to the sublime -- Collins does a splendid job of narrating Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait.
|Young Judy Collins -- still going strong today
As for Collins' own compositions, the most memorable is the very moving tribute to her late son, Checkmate
is simple but very effective and powerful. She sings a duet with herself in the not-bad You Can't Buy Love
. The pretty
is one of those quasi-religious, new age, rise-above-defeat songs full of trite and cliched imagery
that Collins has, perhaps, sung too many of, while the superior Voyager
is melodious and romantic in the typical JC
style. The Wedding Song
, which Collins sings a capella, can't be saved from an essential monotony.
There's seemingly something for everyone
on this CD, from new age to disco to modern-day classical to the unabashedly romantic and poignant. Portrait of
an American Girl, whatever its flaws, is a worthy addition to Collins' lengthy discography.
THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS
The Mamas and the Papas were one of the more interesting, original and genuinely musical rock-pop
groups to come out of the sixties. Their songs -- many written by founder John Phillips -- were melodious and romantic, with
lush arrangements (listen to that mean flute on California Dreamin' and the strings
on Monday, Monday, two of their best numbers and biggest hits) and they harmonized
beautifully. Denny Doherty, the lead male vocalist, and Cass Elliot, the lead female vocalist, had strong voices that could
clearly enunciate each word. Although they never really fell out of what today we would call the “easy listening”
category, they did begin to rock it up a bit more as a year or two went by -- their run was brief -- even
as they did recordings of old standards (their snappy cover of Glad to Be Unhappy
shouldn't work at all but does). One of their best – and best-known – numbers is Twelve Thirty (“Young girls are coming to the canyon), which has a strong melody that is a bit diminished
by the kind of “honky tonk” feel of the background. This is one of the rare occasions when most of the words are
unintelligible because the whole group sings together. Words of Love is another
of their best recordings, and No Salt on Her Tail has an interesting melody.
I Saw Her Again, however, is an over-produced number (as if to disguise its
second-rate quality) that wears out its welcome after a minute or so. Cass Elliot recorded solo albums as well, and her joyful
Make Your Own Kind of Music became a kind of infectious anthem dedicated to
“doing your own thing.” They don't make groups like this anymore. You can find collections of their work –
“The Best of the Mamas and the Papas” and the like – in the CD store or in the library. T. Barnes
|Red Hot Kisses/David Owen
|click to see larger size
Red Hot Kisses. David Owen.
David Owen sings a series of often delightfully suggestive songs on this CD, backing himself on guitar and harmonica.
Women may find the Elvis-like delivery of the title track, as well as the raspiness of his voice, to be rather sexy. Owen
does a flavorful cover of the Rolling Stones' “Love in Vain,” and demonstrates real flair with the harmonica on
“Gypsy Woman”and other tracks, especially “Mississippi River Blues.”Along with “Broke Down Engine,”
one of the best tracks is “I'm Crying,” which has an upbeat tempo despite its title. Owen's voice, however, is
just not a good fit for the poor number “They're Red Hot,” which makes him sound, unfairly, like one of the rejects
on American Idol. (Damn if it isn't that song that sticks in your
memory.) Still, Owen knows how to “sell” a song, plays with obvious heart and feeling, and some of these tracks
are very pleasurable indeed. -- T. Barnes. NOTE: This CD can be ordered at www.davidowen.ca
More CD reviews of various types of music will be posted soon!