Many artists take on a Christmas album at some point in their careers. But Judy Collins’ upcoming Winter Stories — whose rendition of Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage” is premiering exclusively below — is about the season rather than the holiday.
Why? “Well, winter lasts a lot longer than Christmas does, that’s for sure,” the veteran singer-songwriter tells Billboard with a laugh.
Winter Stories is a 10-song set Collins recorded with Norwegian singer Jonas Fjeld and special guests Chatham County Line in Asheville, N.C. — where Collins also created Come Rejoice! A Judy Collins Christmas 25 years ago. The set includes versions of Joni Mitchell’s “The River” and Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman,” as well as an epic, seven-minute treatment of Collins’ own “The Blizzard.”
“It was spectacular,” Collins says of the sessions at Echo Mountain studio. “We just bonded for a few days, and it was all a pleasure. I actually got together with Chatham County Line about a year ago — in November — and had a little rehearsal to see how we worked together. They’re so great, so we decided to go ahead with it and make this album. And Jonas is a friend of mine and he’s worked with them before and likes them a lot. I really love the way it sounds.”
Collins says that she “missed Stan Rogers” — a Canadian folk singer who died at the age of 33 during 1983 — until she was invited to sing at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Nova Scotia a few years back, where she first heard “Northwest Passage. “I was sitting in my dressing room looking down at this beautiful hill in the rain and I could hear this song coming up the hill,” Collins recalls. “I said, ‘Oh my God, what is that?!’ It was just the most beautiful song.” Collins has since performed “Northeast Passage” — which Rogers released in 1981 about the lost expeditions of Sir John Franklin during the mid-19th century — with Rogers’ brother Garnet Rogers.
“I’ve loved that song so much, but I’d never recorded it,” says Collins, who will play Winter Stories shows with Fjeld and Chatham County Line starting Nov. 18 with an eight-show run at Joe’s Pub in New York. “So when we started to talk about (Winter Stories) I said, ‘Well, that’s a song we have to do.’ I think it’s one of the great songs of the centuries.”
Winter Stories, due out Nov. 29, continues a prolific stretch of work for Collins, including a lengthy tour with Stephen Stills to promote their 2017 set Everybody Knows. “I’ve got a lot to do and a lot on my plate and a lot of things I’m thinking about,” Collins says. “I love what I do and it’s a creative time, so…why not? As long as you’re well and healthy and love what you do, as I do, there are a lot of opportunities that are going to come up.”
Next up, in fact, is another new album, Resistance and Beauty, which will be out next year and feature the topical “Dreamers,” a song she began performing with Stills last year. The songs, Collins says, “are of the time, which is always beautiful and terrible. It’s a lifetime album. It has love songs on it. It has my writing. There’s a song called ‘The Grand Canyon,’ which I think is maybe one of my best songs, and a song called ‘Arizona.’ Nature prevails in my songs, I think. I can’t get away from it.”