Judy Collins: Spellbound review – nostalgic first album of originals

The folk legend’s first ever collection of self-written songs gazes back over a life lived with exquisite effect

At the grand old age of 82, legendary folkie Judy Collins is releasing her first ever collection of entirely original songs. After more than 60 years spent crafting stellar interpretations of classics by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Stephen Sondheim, the pandemic gave her the opportunity to sit down at the piano and delve into her treasure trove of poems, turning favourites into song.

Judy Collins: Spellbound album cover
Judy Collins: Spellbound album cover Photograph: Publicity image

Mostly, these find her in understandably wistful mood, gazing back over a life lived. Grand Canyon and When I Was a Girl in Colorado reminisce about cowboys and calming wild horses. Uptempo country rocker Hell on Wheels offers sobering snapshots of more riotous times on the road. Happy memories collide with sad ones, sometimes in the same song. In the exquisite So Alive, she recalls a pair of young musicians in the Greenwich village folk explosion, their heads filled with dreams of rock’n’roll, but one of whom “left the world too early. Your spirit died too young.”

There are ethereally lovely songs of people and places: Idaho (in Prairie Dream) or Arizona, “where antelope climb the ravine” and the passage of time brings the realisation that “everything sings and moves on, and all that’s forgiven is gone”. Some of the arrangements are too middle of the road, but her piano runs are glorious, her voice still as pure as mountain air and – with a second collection apparently following – she is far from done.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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