Helena singer/songwriter and guitarist Judy Fjell, long known in Montana music circles as a “musical activist” who has helped many people find their singing voices, just released an album chock-full of great solo guitar instrumentals.
The 14 pieces are fairly split between her originals and some other favorites. She’s had so many listeners tell her they can hear her voice in the guitar that she calls the CD American Fingerstyle Through the Hands of a Singer.
Fjell has written oodles of songs and recorded 18 albums on her own label in a long career that includes performing all over the U.S. Among her many accomplishments, she has established music empowerment workshops and retreats and founded the Helena chapter of the Montana Women’s Chorus, which she currently directs.
The new CD came about after many hours of playing her own compositions, and being struck by new musical ideas within them. She was awarded a grant from Helena’s Myrna Loy Center for the project, and decided to record a full-length CD. It brims with surprising and different takes on well-known pieces, to boot.
Fjell’s own “Pure Joy” opens the compilation, with its jumpy and bluesy syncopation, the chords snapping fluidly as she bounces the melody along. There’s a sweet, rich intro to the Harold Arlen nugget, “Over the Rainbow,” performed with sleepy-eyed and dreamy ambience, and her relaxed “Masa’s Waltz” gets reprised as the finale (“Masa’s Minute Waltz” ).
Her “Where the Mountains Meet the Prairie” is jazzy and offbeat; Fjell plays harmony lead notes, then pings harmonic chords, which answer the lead like softly falling raindrops. In contrast, she gives her lower guitar strings a workout on the spiritual medley, “What Wondrous Love/Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger.” Starting out slowly and thoughtfully, “Wondrous” settles into a rolling blues sound, tribal almost, before seamlessly flowing into “Stranger.” Fjell bends notes in some chords just enough to retain the blue tinge. Cool!
Her “Cat Nap” is a sprightly country blues, and the original “Elena” is soft and sweet with melodic arpeggios. “Lonesome Moonlight Variations” is Fjell’s study of the famous Bill Monroe tune, “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz.” Because it’s such a killer instrumental, whoever plays it will thrill audiences, but Fjell gives it extra depth and theme by her terrific guitar work.
There are many more cuts of ear candy on the CD; it’s a great album to listen to by the fireplace. Rick Kuschel’s deft engineering skills top off the effort.
Fjell has recently been touring and performing songs from the album, so here’s hoping many of you get the chance to hear her.
– Mariss McTucker