Nomadic, amorphous, and wise, the spirit that lives in each of us finds a home in the music of Americana artist, Judy Paster. A Philadelphia native now living in Nashville, she found her voice in Music City’s hallowed halls. Paster’s songs are a personal reverie, both powerful and profound, that extol faith, affirm love, and celebrate the everyday preoccupations of the heart. Her most recent album, Like Stardust, released in 2019 and produced by Bill McDermott of Omni Sound Studios, is itself a protracted love song, a homage to the intrepid truth seeker, navigating “the earth and stones that I call home” (from Like Stardust’s title song) in search of the divine. Paster’s narrative is one of everyday roots transcending the stars.
“l circle round the sun, let it shine in my soul/I was born to fly on wings of gold,” Paster imagines in the hopeful “Wings of Gold,” the fifth of Like Stardust’s eight tracks. And hope, like faith, is omnipresent throughout; Paster’s vision is steadfast, unencumbered by equivocation, and fully realized through a voice imbued with grace. Universal themes of longing, gratitude, and even loss are examined through the wide-angle lens of wisdom, hard-sought and arrived at by a circuitous route.
After several “soul searching” years of living a “gypsy lifestyle,” Paster discovered a “faith that does not waver,” and her artistry evolved in the gospel music space, earning her a coveted 2015 Gospel Music Association (GMA) award for Jazz/ Blues Song of the Year. “Awaken My Love,” which Paster co-wrote with Bill DiLuigi, and Sean Spicer, is a lovely precursor to her two Nashville Americana album releases, Rubies, Rocks, and Stones (2018) and Like Stardust (2019), which established her music as a hidden gem amidst the Americana glitterati of Music City.
To be here now, on country music’s storied stages and part of Nashville’s famous listening rooms’ reverential awe, is no small thing; add true love, marriage, and a steady stream of new music releases, and the significance of finding home, ever-present in Paster’s work, is understood. “Every singing bird/Every leaf that turns/Will somehow find its way,” Paster assures in the title track from Rubies, Rocks, and Stones, and, then, in Like Stardust’s, “Their Way Home,” she brings her songs themselves to the forefront of her journey. “These love songs will find their way home. And “home” is not so much a specific place, but a point of connection…a critical intersection between epiphany and surrender.
There’s torn and tattered glory in your soul
Disguised inside a weary traveler’s clothes
The sun will rise
To fill your eyes
On this long road running home
Over Rubies rocks and stones
Compassion, connection, perseverance, and self-love will shelter; and light—both inner and outer —will redeem.
An unexpected but welcome surprise on Like Stardust is Paster’s lovely and inspired interpretation of Bob Dylan’s seminal “Blowin’ in the Wind,” a choice which recognizes the folk artists, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Carole King, who were record player regulars in the suburban Philadelphia home where she was raised. Dylan, like Paster, understands that “separateness”– from each other, the world in which we live, and the universe—is perhaps one of the great misconceptions of our time. “How many seas must a white dove sail/Before she sleeps in the sand, Dylan asks, positing that peace and freedom are community endeavors; no one is free until everyone is free. Paster furthers this thinking throughout Like Stardust’s cosmic and beautiful title track. We Burn and shine/Just like the sky above us/Then we go out like stardust/We go out like stardust, she sings, reminding us of our oneness. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return. We are all in this together.
As a singer/songwriter, Paster embodies the refreshing simplicity of the troubadour tradition. Soulful and lyrical melodies are accompanied by trusted riffs and steady guitar. There is an almost luminescent quality to her beauty, and–when combined with her decidedly settled and copacetic presence-Paster seems to belong on the stage. In fact, she impresses and dazzles precisely because she seems simply to have no need or desire to impress or to dazzle. Contradictions abound: a free spirit, yet undoubtedly grounded; secular roots, yet with unequivocal faith; suburban raised, yet country bound. Paster embraces the all of it. ““I really like not fitting in to any one system of religion when it comes to the freedom to worship God. I am what I am. Kind of the same with music, I cross genres naturally, and that’s okay. I know what and WHO I believe in, and I don’t have the slightest problem with it!” A refreshing perspective in the context of the damaging othering and destructive polarization so prevalent today.
Written and released well before the reality of 2020 rested so starkly upon us, Like Stardust’s poignancy resonates and reassures, an antidote for the collective weariness wroght by COVID-19’s mandate of change. “Settle My Soul,” a new song (release date-TBD) written specifically in response to the pandemic, perfectly encapsulates the amorphous unease permeating our daily lives.
Same beating heart inside my chest
A brand new kind of restlessness
There’s Beauty in the hourglass
I never saw it til it passed
But optimism and hope remain Paster’s focus. Her Christmas single “Perfect Gift” is scheduled for release on December 15, and fans can also anticipate “Dreams are Made to Believe,” another new single due out at the end of January.
At its heart, Like Stardust is an uplifting album. Even within the context of disappointment, there is a steady subtext of joy. And Paster’s joy is not a passive joy, an innocuous shaking off of life’s inevitable debris, but a joy born from finding meaning and purpose from the quiet, determined strength that so often finds those who have ventured far. Even in the inherent heartbreak of Like Stardust’s final song, With a Kiss, which recounts the difficult and protracted process of losing a parent to Alzeihmer’s disease, we are offered the small, recognizable, human moments as the true measure of a life. “At every hello and goodbye/He puckered up and shut his eyes /& waited for the touch of her lips, Paster sings, and that kiss becomes what matters most. Humanity is authenticated through an everyday gesture, the brilliance of which is no less than that of Stardust.