After nearly six decades of performances, Judy Collins has little interest in slowing down or, heaven forbid, retiring.
In the past year alone, she has received her first Grammy nomination in four decades (for her collaborative album with Ari Hest, “Silver Skies Blue”), seen the publication of her 10th book (“Craving,” a candid account of Collins’ struggles with compulsive overeating) and released, as well as toured behind, a well-received album with one-time boyfriend Stephen Stills (“Everybody Knows”).
All of this constitutes the newest chapters in an ongoing career that centers around one of folk music’s most celebrated recording catalogs and an ongoing visibility as a live performer. Both have been fueled by a transformative vocal delicacy, be it through Collins’ own work or the variety of songwriters and composers who have benefited tremendously from her interpretations.
In a New York Times review of a 2015 concert at the Café Carlyle, Stephen Holden wrote that Collins’ performance was “fortified by long, steady phrases that trailed into the ether and the calm, farsighted stance of a woman looking forward and back without regret.”
So it’s no wonder that, at 78, Collins isn’t about to let age dull her career momentum.
“I think continuing to do what any artist wants to do doesn’t have anything to do with age,” she says. “Mine has largely been a life of touring. It’s always been about performance. That, I don’t think, changes very much. People know about my music. They celebrate the songs they know and some they don’t. You’re trying to always introduce new songs because that keeps the old ones alive. I think people are people, though. Times change, but people really don’t. I think they want to be entertained, be moved and be motivated. That’s always been true. But it’s wonderful to still see after almost 60 years of performing.”
Initially immersed in piano studies, Collins became part of a booming Greenwich Village folk scene. Among the artists whose music fell into her orbit was Leonard Cohen.
Collins’ 1966 recording of Cohen’s “Suzanne” has largely been viewed as a career breakthrough for both artists. Not coincidentally, the title track to the new “Everybody Knows” is a 1988 Cohen composition.
“His songs have been a fundamental part of my career,” Collins said. “I feel I helped expose him to a greater audience and his own music has been very helpful to my career. He also encouraged me to write my own songs, so we were both appreciative of one another’s presence as well as talents.”
More recently, Collins’ writing has reached far beyond songcraft. While the February publication of “Cravings” and the September release of “Everybody Knows” may seem like projects from different worlds, Collins sees an overlap in both compositional forms.
The first is simple necessity.
“I find the combination of writing books and writing songs works pretty well for me as a balancing act. I guess I need both. I continue to write and try to keep those particular skills going. I find with the songwriting, as well as the books, that I have to pretty much do it on a regular basis. With a book, you keep a story going with the long form and work on it every day. Then you edit. It’s the same sort of process, really, as songwriting. It’s all very similar.”
Today, Collins’ touring schedule remains full as do her recording commitments (she is currently at work on another album with Hest) and the clarity and depth of her singing rotates around a simple but essential regimen (“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t scream”). And as a bonus this year through her concerts with Stills is the added excitement of singing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” the classic he wrote nearly 50 years ago as their relationship was dissolving. The mood surrounding the song today, needless to say, is different.
“It’s fun,” Collins said of revisiting the song. “People enjoy it. They get up and dance. Everybody has a good time.”
If you go
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15
Where: Grand Theatre, 308 St. Clair St.
Call: 502-352- 7469