Music

Stills & Collins: Everybody Knows

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Their voices blend together well, especially on the title song. The roughness of Stephen Stills’ leathery vocals meshes well with Judy Collins’ velvety crooning and fits the black humor of Cohen’s lyrics.


Stills & Collins

Everybody Knows

Label: Wildflower / Cleopatra
US Release Date: 2017-09-22
Amazon
iTunes

There’s an excellent live Nina Simone recording where the High Priestess of Soul tries to sing Judy Collins’ beautiful self-penned ode, “My Father”. Simone has to stop. She can’t finish the song. She felt alienated from the white middle-class concerns of Collins’ youth. Now Simone was a supremely talented musician who usually could handle folk, rock, and jazz with equal aplomb. But there was something about Collins’ song that troubled her so deeply that she could not continue singing without feeling false.

That makes sense. To hear Collins interpret a song whether self-penned or by another author, makes it sui generis. After all, she recorded Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”, Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” before the original songwriters and made the songs classics before the composers released their own versions. In some weird way, it was felt like they were covering her.

Collins has been prolifically performing and recording for more than 50 years, releasing more than a dozen discs in the 20th century alone, even getting a Grammy nomination earlier this year for Best Folk Album (with Ari Hest) for Silver Skies Blue. Stephen Stills is another story. He has performed and recorded erratically during the last 40 years. Stills has not created much music of merit since his heyday in the '60s and '70s. In fact, his best album in the 21st century has been Just Roll Tape which consists of demo versions of songs he recorded back in 1968.

Let’s face it. Shit happens. We all get older. Stills is far from the only artist whose skills deteriorated over time. He was well-known for his party habits and wild life back in the day. The fact that they took their toll should surprise no one. But Stills was just so freaking good. His guitar playing was on par with peers like Jimi Hendrix, his writing as insightful, as his former bandmate Neil Young, his singing so sweet that when it blended with David Crosby and Graham Nash, Stills sounded like an angel. Many critics cite Stills as the artist who has declined the most because he was so damn good and fell so low.

Stills and Collins dated for two years back in the '60s, but she rejected his marriage proposal, and he wrote one of his best compositions, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, in response. Rolling Stone magazine listed it as one of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

But that was then; this is now. The two have joined forces and released a new album of duets and are headed on tour together. Now, does the world need another pair of baby boomers getting back together and invoking their glory days of old? Probably not. But that said, the album is a pleasant surprise. Collins is no longer the songbird of old who could hit the high notes like ringing a bell yet she maintains the ability to phrase lines with rich resonance. On the cut “River of Gold”, which Collins wrote explicitly for this album, she nostalgically recalls the past and declares “My memories will never grow old” in a youthful tone that suggests no matter what age we are, we never age in our mind.

While it might seem that Collins is using her reputation to redeem Stills, he acquits himself quite well on songs he wrote in the past such as “Judy” and “So Begins the Task”. The two also cover such great material as Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country”, the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care”, Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe”, and Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”. Their voices blend well, especially on the title song. The roughness of Stills’ leathery vocals meshes well with the Collins’ velvety crooning and fits the black humor of Cohen’s lyrics.

And in a purposely self-referential way, explicitly with tracks such as “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” and ““Everybody Knows” that deal with the present and the passing of time and the others which evoke this, Stills & Collins transcend wistfulness and melancholy into something deeper. It's not quite desire, but a longing for desire. The new album provides a gauge where the boomers who first heard these musicians back in the '60s can measure how far they have come and what has been lost. As Simone understood all those years ago, all art is personal. Whether Stills & Collins have moved on or are lost in the past is all in the mind of the listener.

7

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Professor Abbas Amanat shines the light of reason and rationality upon this greatly misunderstood nation.

For many, Iran's defining characteristics were forged in only a few short months between 1978 and 1979. It was at this time that the Pahlavi Dynasty was toppled, that a largely secular government was exchanged for one driven by Shi'a Islam, and that the Ayatollahs rose to their dominant position within the Iranian political landscape.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image