Judy Kamminga,
Visions of Freedom
(self-released, 1998)

There seem to be a growing number of singer-songwriters using the harp as their instrument of choice to accompany themselves, including Jay Ansill, Debbie Brewin-Wilson and Dee Carstensen. Add to this collection Canadian Judy Kamminga, who brings an unusual combination of jazzy rhythms, contemporary themes, ancient settings and a wide array of instruments backing her to her recording.

As a songwriter, Kamminga calls on themes as contemporary as the life of Princess Diana and as old as Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Her lyrics are filled with fantastic imagery, depicting "the willow sighing, the dragons flying, deep within your dreams..." (from the track "Winding River"). These vivid images paint brilliant pictures, sometimes just vignettes, leaving the listener to draw the images together into their own stories.

Despite her relatively low range, Kamminga's vocals float above her instrumental accompaniments with an ethereal voice that almost whispers on the wind. The wispy quality to her voice is stretched and reflected through heavy reverb, creating a mythical, mysterious sound. Add this quality of vocals to a harp-heavy accompaniment, and you have the makings of music that could easily be used to back a movie of a fairy tale. The music is a bit overproduced, but has a strong creative force behind it.

Kamminga's Celtic harp has a very bright and sparkling tone. She likes to use unusual note progressions and chord patterns in her music, both behind her airy vocals and when the harp solos. The result is a very contemporary sound, with a strong new-age flavor. She adds to this a fair bit of jazzy rhythm, keeping the music moving and interesting.

The music grows richer and fuller on the tracks where she adds bass and guitar by Lloyd Hanson (also the producer of the recording), backing vocals by Debbie Adshade (her band partner in Madrigal), viola by Chris Buckley and percussion by Mike Doherty. She makes great use of this on "Human Expense," the song about Princess Diana. The bass, backing vocals and congas make this song into a full-scale production. My favorite song is the title track, "Visions of Freedom," which incorporates heavy syncopated percussion. She also adds the vocal talent of Mike Doyle on a duet, "Soul Love," about the love of Orpheus and Eurydice. "Secret Hearts," the opening track, sounds like it could easily be on the pop charts, despite its ancient basis in the relationship of Guinevere and Lancelot.

Along with the songs are four instrumental tracks, each highlighting the gentle, moving spirit of the harp and the bright tone of Kamminga's harp. Of these, my favorite is "The Muse," which opens with the sound of wind through the harp strings, and moves into a contemplative, introspective melody, perfect for meditation. The gentle voice of the viola weaves in and out of the harp's melody, creating a rich sound.

Kamminga's modern harping and ethereal voice create a perfect blend for introspective music, calling listeners deep into their own souls.

[ by Jo Morrison ]