Judy Collins Reflects on ‘Spellbound’ Year, Talks Grammy Nomination

We should begin boarding right about ten after, maybe quarter after. We’re running fifteen minutes early to New York …

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“Oh good,” Judy Collins says with a laugh over the chirping desk attendant giving flight updates over the crackling airport intercom. “It’s always good to be early.”

The folk legend is on her way home to New York – departing from Boston after a string of gigs on the East Coast – to wind down from a truly spellbound year.

“It has been amazing,” Collins tells American Songwriter of the last 12 months, which have seen her tour heavily, launch a podcast, and release a new album, all the while continuing to create. Now, the 83-year-old is closing out 2022 with her aptly named 29th album, Spellbound, in the running for Best Folk Album at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards.

“I was quite surprised at the nomination,” she says. She recalls learning of the news while in recovery from surgery on a broken elbow and subsequent infection. It was a time she refers as a “pain in the ass,” but adds, “In the middle of that I found out about the nomination. I thought, ‘That’s wonderful. That’s a great thing to have happen at the beginning of my 83rd year.’

“When I got my last Grammy nomination in 2016, it had been 40 years since I had been nominated,” she recalls, chuckling. “I guess they suddenly remembered me, right?”

This most recent is her seventh Grammy nomination. The recognition means a little more than any previous nomination as Spellbound is Collins’ first release to contain completely original material.

“I have been writing songs, of course, since 1966,” she explains, “since I met up with Leonard Cohen and he said, ‘I don’t understand why you’re not writing your own songs.’” Many of her original songs, like “Since You’ve Asked” and “Albatross,” have been among her innumerable hits. But an album made up entirely of her self-penned work is another feeling altogether.

Spellbound has been a long time coming. “That was on Leonard Cohen’s wish list for me and I finally made it,” she says.

The songs that appear on Spellbound sprang not from Cohen’s early encouragement, but from a challenge Collins set for herself. “I started, in 2016, writing a poem every day,” she details. “And that’s what was sort of the feeder channel for these songs.”

The album is defined by its poetic quality. Vivid narratives, powerful imagery, and vibrant language are all swept up in flurries of keys, and bright strings, and carried on the weightlessness of Collins’ sparkling soprano. “God is in the details and I want to be very different in the details that I use in my songs so that there’s a distinction in them that identifies them as songs that I’ve written,” she says of her music.

Reflective, contemplative, and at times autobiographical, the songs on Spellbound are connected to Collins and tell her story – where she’s been over her 60-year career and where she’s headed. The coming year looks bright for the legend as she continues to tour and host her podcast, Since You’ve Asked. She also hinted at a book of poetry, featuring some of Spellbound‘s origins, in the works and threw around the idea of writing a biographical Broadway musical.

“I think that would give me something to do on the road,” she laughs.

For now, the next stop is home, then the Grammys, and then whatever the new year holds. But rest assured, whatever Collins is up to, we’re bound to be spellbound.

Photo by Shervin Lainez

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