At the time this album was released, it was easily the best album Judy Collins had delivered. It followed the format (and maybe formula) of her two previous albums, where she had started to focus more on the newer songwriters and less on traditional folksongs. This album includes almost entirely contemporary songwriters, with two exceptions: “So Early In The Spring” and “Lord Gregory”. Looking back at the album now, it’s almost a mirror of what was going on in the New York City folk scene in the first half of 1965.It’s almost a mirror of what was going on in the New York City folk scene.
The comparison with Joan Baez’s sixth album, Farewell Angelina – released roughly at the same time – is inevitable. Both cover Dylan’s “Daddy You Been On My Mind” and both include traditional ballads. While Baez’s album includes subtle electric guitar, Collins typically recorded with additional – though not electric – musicians. Collins has three Dylan songs on this album, none of which are political, but she includes several songs from or about the civil rights movement. She also includes several newer songwriters whose names are now familiar: Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen, Richard Fariña, Gordon Lightfoot and Billy Ed Wheeler, whose “Coming of the Roads” is perhaps the most beautiful song on the album.
The album kicks off with an upbeat version of “Pack Up Your Sorrows” written by Richard Fariña and his sister-in-law, Pauline Marden, with Fariña on dulcimer. Fariña also plays dulcimer on Gil Turner’s “Carry It On”, a version that continues to hold up musically 50 years later.
Collins always had excellent musicians working with her and this album is no exception; multi-instrumentalist Eric Weissberg handles most of the second guitar work, providing counterpoint and keeping things tasty without ever getting in Collins’ way. John Sebastian’s harp on Eric Andersen’s “Thirsty Boots” is exceptional. However, the standout performance on the album is Danny Kalb’s guitar on “Daddy You Been On My Mind”.
Looking at the album now one realizes that, with a slight rearrangement of the track listing, Collins could have ended the album with a fairly strong statement on the civil rights movement; with Ochs’ “In the Heat of the Summer” about the 1964 Harlem riots, Gil Turner’s “Carry It On”, and the Malvina Reynolds/Barbara Dane collaboration “It Isn’t Nice” that closes the album with a version recorded live in concert. Yet, although the song was cool at the time, it’s the one song that hasn’t stood the test of time.
This would end up being Collins’ last folk album. Her next album would be dramatically different in musical backing, though her interest in contemporary songwriters would remain. Either way, Fifth Album was a strong effort then and remains so today.