Jude Johnstone has never considered herself a country songwriter —even though Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, and Trisha Yearwood have recorded her songs. That same self-image applies to her newest album, A Woman’s Work. The absence of twang doesn’t prevent her from drawing from the same well that fed so many classic honkytonk heartbreakers.
“A Woman's Work is a full-on, heart-on-the-sleeve record,” Johnstone says. “The last couple of years have been pretty dramatic for me; I got divorced after 28 years. I also spent a lot of time travelling and playing music in Europe. It was the first time I traveled abroad like that by myself, and it was pretty bittersweet.”
Another factor that influenced her writing was her move to Nashville in June 2015. Although she had been visiting Nashville for decades, leaving the home she lived in for so many years was an emotionally crushing experience.
“It took me a while to get out of bed when I got here,” she says with a laugh. “I was pretty depressed about having to leave my beautiful home in California. In the old days when I came to Nashville, I always hung out on the west side, but I absolutely love East Nashville and the Five Points neighborhood.”
Although Johnstone has adapted to her new home, when it came time to record, she decided to return to the Golden State.
“I made myself go back to California to record it because my cello player lives there, and that’s where I’ve recorded all my records,” she says. “As far as Nashville being a part of the records, I took some of what I’ve gotten from here with me. I don't address it directly, but it's certainly a part of it because my life has changed so much. The songs are about loneliness and being apart from your loved ones for the first time in your life, but it's also about new beginnings.”
One song on the album with a definite Nashville legacy is “The Woman Before Me.” A top 10 country hit for Trisha Yearwood in 1992, Johnstone had never recorded or performed the song live since writing it over 25 years ago.
“I had never put that song on any of my records because I don't usually sing in a country style. I decided to put it on this record because so many people have asked me to record it, and this was a 'woman's' record. I did a unbelievably bare bones version of it — just piano and cello — because it would be pointless to do it like Trisha did.”
A Woman’s Work is available from BoJak Records.