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‘Spellbound’ Review: Judy Collins’ First All-Original Album Enchants

4 stars

Album cover for Judy Collins' "Spellbound."
Album cover for Judy Collins' "Spellbound." By Courtesy of Judy Collins / Cleopatra
By Clara V. Nguyen, Crimson Staff Writer

Judy Collins’ song covers are nothing short of alchemy. The legendary folk singer’s golden voice, which has charmed audiences since her 1961 studio debut, can transform even the most familiar melodies into innovative yet timeless experiences. On Feb. 25, Collins released “Spellbound,” her first album of all original material that, also as if by magic, evokes collective nostalgia for her own beloved recollections.

The title track opens the album with a piano ostinato that shimmers like the “bright blue water’s shore” Collins remembers from a stay in Honolulu. Even after she leaves the “light of sand and water” behind to “crawl the highways,” her repetition of “spellbound” at the end of every third verse highlights her enduring amazement at life. The shift from past to present tense in the last lines says just as much: “Surfacing in air and light / Now I live, and I am spellbound.”

On lead single “When I Was a Girl in Colorado,” Collins revisits her Denver childhood, where “rivers danced on canyon walls.” The first two verses’ idyllic natural imagery references winter, spring, and summer by name. Perhaps in an attempt to stave off the fading of memories like fall leaves, the only mention of the last remaining season later arrives as a wishful question: “Will you take me to the mountains / Before another summer ends?” As the song progresses, fewer verses separate each chorus, and Collins brings listeners ever closer to her vision of home.

In 2016, Collins wrote one poem every day. Two of the resulting 366 found their way onto “Spellbound” as lyrics to the maritime love stories “Shipwrecked Mariner” and “Wild with Mist.” In both songs, Collins harnesses the sea’s expanse to convey her distance from her subjects. “You had promised me another world,” she sings on “Shipwrecked Mariner” about a former lover who abandoned ship at the first sign of foul weather. The realization of this promise finally takes place on “Wild With Mist,” when viewing William Turner’s turbulent oil seascapes sends Collins “into another, and then another world.”

Although Collins spends much of “Arizona” reminiscing about her past, the track reaches a more forward-looking conclusion. “You must fly from the winter to May / You must fly from the past into today,” she sings in the album’s last lines. By transferring her memory into song, she is also releasing herself from its hold.

Each song on “Spellbound” shines with reflective sincerity, but the album’s lack of structural variety somewhat clouds its overall impact. As Collins’ lyrics take listeners from Hawaii to Colorado, New York, and Arizona, the frequent ballad tempos, repetitive melodies, and ABCB tetrameter make these destinations start to blur together.

Still, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth visiting. Collins’ matchless soprano retains enough strength and clarity to enchant anything she sings, which she attributes to steadfast study of the bel canto style — but even more than her flawless technique, her powerful reverence for music and life will put you under her latest album’s spell.

—Staff writer Clara V. Nguyen can be reached at

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