“Heaven is all around, translated to sound,” Michael Hedges said. Listening to Ryan Judd’s “Soaring Together” – which features Kristen Miller on cello – heaven seems near, almost close enough to touch. It is impossible not to be amazed by Judd’s unique guitar technique and elegant compositions. It is also a highly versatile relaxation album. It works just as well for sleeping as for thinking, dreaming, and creative work. That is rare and a statement of the album’s calming and inspiring qualities. “Soaring Together” is an album that takes off from the first note – and stays there.
Ryan Judd is a Billboard Chart Topping recording artist and is an internationally known music therapist. He debuted with “Sleep Soundly: Guitar Music for Insomnia” (2014) and has since released 18 albums and three compilations – the latest being “Relaxing Guitar 4”. Ryan’s recordings have been streamed more than 130 million times during the past five years. Kirsten Miller is a classically trained cellist and Shamanic Sound Healer. She has released three albums. Now in 2021, she released “Cello Journeys” (2021). Miller was the cellist on Ryan Judd’s guitar and cello record “An Open Sky” (2018) which won a Zone Music Reporter Award and spent over a year on the Billboard Top 10 Chart for New Age.
The opening piece is called “Innocence Lost”. I absolutely love the first 8 seconds and how Judd can set the atmosphere for the whole album in such a short time. His fingerpicking technique is gentle and expressive, giving the album a distinctive sound. Miller’s cello is a bit in the background, masterfully backing up the guitar melody. “Innocence Lost” is a sad yet hopeful piece. It is this balance that makes it into such a heartwarming listen. What a breathtakingly beautiful album opener!
“A Child’s Wonder”, the album’s second single, has – as implied by the title – a rather inquisitive sound. It makes you see the world through the eyes of a child. Everything has a sense of magic and wonder to it. Notice also how the attention shifts from one thing to the next as the child finds something new to discover. It is all there if you take the time to listen; This is music both for the heart and the imagination.
Sharing the Joy
After two such emotionally rich pieces, “Sharing the Joy” is light and uncomplicated. There is a noticeable rhythm and some delightful twists and turns along the way. It might seem straightforward at first listen, but here too is a hidden poetry that takes time to fully absorb.
We are now entering the most romantic part of “Soaring Together” (it is not called “Soaring alone”, after all). “Hearts Entwined” describes a love that is destined to last a lifetime. I like the focus; it is not about the grand emotions but a long-lasting commitment. Also, notice the fade-out; the piece is not over. If this were a poem, it would have stopped mid-sentence. “On Her Wings” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The above Hedges quote seems to become a reality; Heaven is right here if you open your heart to Judd’s melody.
Never to Return
The next part of the album is more thoughtful. “Never to Return” masterfully describes a cacophony of emotions. Even without knowing the title, you could sense the mix of feelings. The whole spectrum is here, from jubilation to heartache. Ryan Judd is a storyteller of the highest order.
“A Waltz with Jena Lynn” shows a bit more of Judd’s impressive technique. In the same way as Michael Hedges, it is now about showing off but actually pushing the boundaries of what a guitar can express.
“Alone Inside” takes the album in a new direction. It is a much more somber piece. I think it is a comment on how we all feel lonely sometimes, even among the people we love. The melancholy is not to last; next out is the title track. It underlines the social aspects that give this album wings. We are not soaring alone, but together. This is a shared experience.
“A Look in the Mirror” is the name of the album closer. Its philosophical nature stays with you long after the piece has ended. There are even some quick flamenco chords (around 1m49s) that disappear almost immediately, perhaps commenting on how a mirror is never to be trusted.
In conclusion: What I find most fascinating with Ryan Judd’s “Soaring Together”, is how each listen seems to highlight the album’s different qualities – depending on the listener’s mood. If you are tired and want to sleep, it is like a warm blanket. Or if you want to read or create, its complexity shines through and gives your imagination wings (old fans will know that this is true of many of Ryan Judd’s albums, but it is especially true for “Soaring Together”). Kristen Miller’s amazing cello adds colors and depth to the soundscape. Pieces like “Innocence Lost”, “On Her Wings,” and the title track made their way to my all-time favorite playlist after the first listen. Ryan Judd is without a doubt one of the finest guitarists on the New Age music scene today.
“Refuse to be average, let your heart soar as high as it will,” A. W. Towser said. Listening to Ryan Judd’s “Soaring Together”, the heart gets some time off and can go wherever it wants.