In May of 2015, we reviewed and “very highly recommended” the album “Signature: Solo” by internationally acclaimed Australian pianist, composer, vocalist, producer, artist, and jewelry designer Fiona Joy. Our general sentiments about the album were stated as follows:
“On this album, Fiona Joy shows that she is a master at using subtle variations in tempo, volume, and intensity to convey the nuances of the thoughts, emotions, and moods she expresses. Her “touch” on the keys is at once gentle, tender, soft, elegant, graceful, passionate, and sincere. There should be no doubt that her hands are fully in touch with her heart – and her emotions – and all of the highs and lows – flow out onto the keys with every note. It is truly an album you will want to listen to over and over.”
Over the past year, the “Signature: Solo” album has been unquestionably successful, and spent some time in the coveted #1 spot on the Zone Music Reporter (ZMR) AirPlay Charts. In fact, the album has also been chosen as the winner of the prestigious ZMR “Solo Piano Album of the Year” award for 2015.
Recently, Fiona Joy has released a new and revised version of the album titled “Signature: Synchronicity.” While the earlier version of the album featured mostly solo piano works, the new version, which contains essentially the same songs, includes varied instrumental accompaniment on all of the tracks, provided by a stunning lineup of professional musicians, including Borbala Bodonyi, Eugene Friesen, James Englund, Jeff Haynes, Jeff Oster, Mark Shulman, Nick Hawkins (Fiona Joy’s son), Noah Wilding, Paul Jarman, Premik Russell Tubbs, Rebecca Daniel, Tom Eaton, Tony Levin, and Grammy Award winning guitarist and producer Will Ackerman.
Also, in many cases, the music is magnificently accented by Fiona Joy’s own vocalizations which in our earlier review we described as “whispery, mysterious, darkly sensual, ethereal, and passionate.”
This new version of the album was also co-produced by Will Ackerman, Tom Eaton, and James Englund, and mixed by Eaton, at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont (some of the recording was also done at Crash Symphony Productions in Sydney, Australia). Consequently, the production quality is simply outstanding.
You can view a promotional video for the album here.
For Fiona Joy, the “Signature” series of albums was originally imagined as “a very personal expression ” — an examination of her inner life, and how the unfortunate deterioration of the “signature” bone in her left hand was affecting her ability to share her life’s work. However, it eventually evolved into more of an exploration of possibilities, dreams, and fantasies — both good and bad. Whatever the inspiration, there can be no doubt that Fiona Joy has again, as we have come to expect, poured her heart and soul into every song, every measure, and every note.
This new version of “Signature” is quite different from the previous version. First, the original album featured two different versions of the track titled “Once Upon Impossible” – a solo piano version and a version with light accompaniment. In contrast, the new album features two different versions of the track “Grace.” But it is the addition of the accompaniment on the new album that truly distinguishes it from the original version. Generally speaking, while the accompaniment adds complexity and depth to the original solo piano tracks, as might be expected, it also, at various points, adds clarity, passion, energy, tenderness, character, color, drama, excitement, emotion, creativity, and poignancy. Most importantly, it enhances the interest appeal of the music so much so that a truly outstanding album has been made even better.
For example, on the first track “Ceremony,” the addition of strong percussion by Haynes, electric guitar, electric bass, and keyboard elements from Eaton, and ethereal vocal layers from Bodanyi and Fiona Joy, certainly accentuates the energetic, up-tempo, and celebratory spirit of this track. It is, put simply, an exercise in “joy.”
“Grace,” which is, of course, the Fiona Joy song that appeared on Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman’s Grammy Award winning “Winds of Samsara” album, is rendered even more exquisitely beautiful with the addition of cello by Friesen, Levin’s NS bass, and Jeff Oster’s flugelhorn filling in some of Kellerman’s flute elements from the WOS version. But most importantly, it is the addition of the vocal elements – mostly by Fiona Joy – that takes this track to an even higher level of spectacular. Her wispy, profound, intensely emotive, stirring, and captivating vocal solo performance on this track really stands out and makes it our most favorite track on this new album.
According to Fiona Joy, “Grace came to me as a gift at a time when I was feeling down. Someone emailed me to say they had a still born baby girl 10 years earlier and listened to my music to help her recover. She named the baby Grace. Now, 10 years later she has a daughter called Sophie Grace and together they sit and listen my music to remember her baby sister. The message to me was that my music had stood the test of time and that the most important thing I can do with it is to touch and help others. ” Indeed it does!
The other version of “Grace” that appears on this album is dubbed a “Chill Version.” It is a somewhat shorter, more upbeat, less emotional, and jazzier version of the song, with steadier and more prominent percussion, including Fiona Joy’s son Nick on a beatbox, as well as a strong electric guitar solo by Shulman. It also features truly great bass and flugelhorn elements. And Fiona Joy’s vocals are also even more prominent in this version, as are the layered vocal contributions from Bodanyi.
The track “Fair Not” is rendered even darker, and more somber, intense, and dramatic with the additional accompaniment by Friesen on cello, Daniel on violin, and Eaton on bass, keyboards, and percussion. It even more magnificently conveys feelings of despair, devastation, anger, and of course, a sense of “not fair.” It is also easily one of our favorite tracks on “Signature: Synchronicity.”
Another of our favorites is “Once Upon Impossible.” It seems to be a slightly recrafted version of the “accompanied” track that appeared on “Signature: Solo.” It nonetheless remains a sincere, emotional, and expressive lament that is both profoundly touching and disconcerting. The addition of the hauntingly poignant vocalizations of Fiona Joy adds to the unsettling sense of despair summoned in this song.
As did the version from “Signature: Solo,” “Calling Earth” magnificently conveys the feelings of isolation, hopelessness, foreboding, and perhaps resignation that one might expect from someone who is, as the title suggests, desperately “calling out to the earth” from some place very far away. And while the cello, NS bass, and ethereal vocals by Wilding added to this track are less prominent than on other tracks, they nonetheless contribute to and accent the emotional intensity conveyed by Fiona Joy’s piano.
The addition of an EWI (electric wind instrument) from Tubbs, percussion, and NS bass to “Invisible Train” provides more depth, complexity, and intrigue, and truly compounds the energy, spirit, and overall impression of movement conveyed in this work. Even more so than before, one can easily envision a locomotive starting on its journey, a bit slow at first, then gradually picking up speed; then powerfully and rhythmically pushing steadily onward, until, as it begins to approach its destination, it slows to an eventual stop. So just sit back and enjoy the ride.
With modest accompaniment added, “Signature” remains one of the slower, more poignant, more reflective, and more pensive works on the album. An exquisite opening by Jarman on a Taragato (a woodwind instrument from Hungary and Romania) and subtle but nonetheless stylish acoustic guitar contributions by Will Ackerman, fit masterfully with Fiona Joy’s piano, adding beautifully to the magic and overall emotional power of this track.
“From The Mist” and “Little Star” are similar in that they both have a bit more classical music feel and both feature exceptional melodies. The addition of an Irish whistle to “From The Mist” provides more depth, more intensity, and more drama, and certainly emphasizes the decidedly Celtic music influences on this track, especially at the end. And on “Little Star,” even though the accompaniment is more subtle, the bass, and occasional slide guitar elements definitely accentuates the tender, gentle, contemplative, emotional, and dramatic elements of this song, and makes for a wonderful ending to the album.
In summary, both of the “Signature” albums from Fiona Joy are outstanding works, and definitely worth adding to your collection. But with the additional instrumental and vocal elements added, “Signature: Synchronicity” is truly a magnificent album and so we give it our highest possible recommendation.