“Chestnut-brown canary, ruby-throated sparrow” sang Stephen Stills in his “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, a song from CSNY’s 1969 debut album to Judy Collins, with whom he was ending a two-year affair. Collins’s big baby-blue eyes haven’t faded with time. Nor has her voice – indeed, it is far more secure now than it was 40 years ago, when she was battling pills and booze, a fight she’s documented in a number of books.
Collins was a star in 1969; CSNY were making their celebrated Woodstock debut and that iconic first album had harmonies that were spine-chillingly beautiful and pitch-perfect. The tie-dye and patchouli may have dated but the CSNY sound has not. Collins’s career has ebbed and flowed, though she is still a significant draw in the US, and there’s no denying her musicianship (she was destined to become a classical pianist before she discovered folk music) or her ear for a good song. Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, whose 1988 song from I’m Your Man gives this collection its title, were both her discoveries.
Everybody Knows marks a 50-year relationship between Collins and Stills, who fell in love as Collins was recording Who Knows Where the Time Goes – Stills played on the Sandy Denny title track. They’ve lately been on the road together and this album makes you hope they cross the Atlantic and tour the UK.
They tackle some terrific songs, and the opening cover of the Traveling Wilburys' hit "Handle With Care" draws you immediately in – it's not quite Roy, Bob and company, but it's a wonderfully energising, spirited cover. Sandy Denny’s aforementioned classic is revisited: Collins's voice is straight out of ‘68, and Stills noodles beautifully over her Martin 12-string while Russell Walden provides piano in-fills. From Stills's Just Roll Tape, recorded in NYC in 1968, comes “Judy”. For her part, Collins offers a new song, “River of Gold”, alongside Stills’s “So Begins the Task”, and "Houses" from Judith, in which Collins reflects on her (then recent) relationship with Stills. “Reasons to Believe” is a reminder of Tim Hardin, and their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country”, all jangling acoustics, is affecting. “Questions” has a real CSN&Y feel to it.
As a celebration of a half-decade musical friendship, it’s a great outing. As Collins says, “When people hear us together they’re reminded not only of our story but of their own. People return to their youthful love affairs. It spins out like a double helix with many purposes.”
Overleaf: Watch the album trailer for Stephen Stills & Judy Collins's Everybody Knows