"Notes From Helen" is Helen Avakian's first solo guitar album, and it is named after her website blog. It is a collection of Helen's original guitar instrumentals and arrangements of some of her long time top favorite songs including "Icarus" by Ralph Towner, George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue," Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," Jay Ungar's "Ashokan Farewell," and The Beatles "In My Life." Helen was especially thrilled and honored to have guitar star, Pete Huttlinger, join her on his arrangement of the traditional Irish tune, Monaghan Jig.
Helen used the prize money she won in the 2014 International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship to help fund the recording of this CD.
"What a thrill to review the first instrumental CD from Helen Avakian, and not just because she's the first woman to win, in 2014, the International Fingerstyle Championship, which draws virtuoso guitarists from around the world. (Note that the contest, which has been around since 1979 as a national championship, was only once won by a female performer, Muriel Anderson, in 1989.) No, the thrill comes because Notes from Helen is an extraordinary CD, ranking with the very best fingerstyle - or any style - guitar album. Avakian formerly of New York area and now hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, is already an acclaimed singer songwriter with two previous CDs; here she has put together a collection of guitar instrumentals. The pieces are stylistically and musically varied, ranging from folk, Celtic, classical, flamenco and pop, all sparkling with originality and verve. It's hard to decide what's most impressive - the fresh, intelligent arrangements, the arresting original compositions, or the dynamic and lyrical playing. Avakian studied classical guitar and only recently ventured into fingerstyle, which makes her accomplishment even more stunning. Her playing is brilliant; she can play flashy (traditional jazzy "Rhapsody in Blue," George Gershwin), funky ("Signed, Sealed and Delivered," Stevie Wonder), or acoustic fingerstyle of great emotional depth (Jay Ungar's "Ashokan Farewell" or her own "McTammy's Jig"). But for heart-stopping beauty listen to the tempestuous and complex "Zambra" (her original, though based on a traditional flamenco piece) or her powerful arrangement of Ralph Towner's "Icarus." Her technique is masterful, especially her right-hand wizardry. Every piece is studded with flawless tremolos, bell-like harmonics, and forceful strumming, like rasqueado. It is perhaps her control and nuance of dynamics that's key to what makes her playing so distinctive, as she moves from delicately soft to strong and assertive as the music dictates. With Notes from Helen, Avakian is well on her way to joining the ranks not only of top female guitarists but of the best fingerstyle guitarists, period.
Céline Keating, Minor 7th
"On this set, Avakian mixes soul with Civil War soul and classics of various types stirring up quite the tasty acoustic, guitar gumbo. Stuff like this is too good not to share. Well done throughout."
“New and exciting...indelible songs centered around a girl and her guitar, singing what matters most.”
“If Joni Mitchell spent time hanging around Woodstock with Caroline Peyton, Avakian would easily have shown she was influenced by this duo in her bio. A new breed of fiercely independent singer/songwriter that has deeper chops than she lets onto, Avakian is like a mannered Alanis Morrisette without the angst but with no resignation either. A charming and engaging real artist, Avakian makes some really meaty listening that is as far from disposable pop as you can get. Well done.”
"I listened to your entire CD ("I Love the Moon") over and over again. You don't just sing. You communicate right to the soul in a clear and beautiful way. Sweet, vulnerable, beautiful, deep, poetic, virtuosic, honest are just a few of the adjectives I could use to describe your CD."
Brian Henke, Award Winning Fingerstyle Guitarist/Composer, Producer
"I Love the Moon exudes confidence and warmth, with each song setting a different mood, The CD's 12 tracks are the culmination of an artist's craft and determination to succeed. I Love the Moon gets better with each listen."
Kate Goldsmith, Taconic News
"...on I Love the Moon even long time fans will find something new and exciting in the stylistc scope and growth at play. Avakian sings the blues with a rustic sincerity few could have imagined. ...indelible songs centered around a girl and her guitar, singing what matters most."
Michael Jurkovic, Elmore Magazine, Folk and Music Exchange
"I Love the Moon blends folk guitar and descriptive lyrics with great tempo changes and Avakian's wonderful voice, reminiscent of Jewel or Natalie Merchant."
Helen's long-awaited CD "Vanishing Point" Appears! Voted Number 1 Favorite Recording by Rhythm and News Magazine Poll. Co-produced with the incredible muti-talented Scott Petito whose credits include work with Keith Richards, James Taylor and the Band, Vanishing Point contains 10 songs and 2 instrumentals which range from simple acoustic numbers to full band productions.
“There is a courageously idiosyncratic sound at work here, creating a warm, lacy realm of reality and romance...one of the finest sounding discs ever to come out of the Hudson Valley." Michael Jurkovic Rhythm and News Magazine ""Vanishing Point" takes the unique meld of folk, classical, flamenco and pop that is pure Avakian, and adds the most tasteful and tasty touches of pop and new age to create a Helen in four dimensions; a virtually perfect gem-like setting of ensemble music that is scrupulously crafted to enhance Helen's unique gifts, as a fine ring sets off a rare diamond. It is chock-full of a very clearsighted intelligence both musically and lyrically that is rare in current pop. The singing and songwriting are nothing short of superb--one of those haunting voices that once heard can never be forgotten. In a just world this indie album would be a shoo-in for a Grammy--equal to the absolute best of what's out there, and far, far superior to most.”
Michael "the Moose" Dmoch
Founder, MidHudson FolkFest, Rosendale Street Festival
"Vanishing Point is Helen Avakian at her best!"