Amy Speace is a poster child of the indie movement. She sings from the soul and writes songs from the heart. She works as hard as anyone and much harder than most. She spends an inordinate amount of time on the road because without deep pockets that is the only real way to get her music to the people, and uses the time on the road not only to hone but to expand her craft. She writes one of the few blogs I read, called Innerspeace (I dig that title), in which she touches upon anything and everything of importance to her. And she works and she works. And there have to be tiny moments during which she wonders why it is so hard and why she is not better known.
I know I do. When I first ran across Amy Speace, she was a major blip on 2006's musical radar screen. Praise for her Songs For Bright Street was raising eyebrows everywhere and one might have thought the future an easy skate. She wasn't just Amy Speace then, at least from what I read and from what I heard. She was Amy Speace and the Tearjerks and when I sent her an email asking about touring with the band, she responded as if that was right where she wanted to be (and I'm sure it was). Bright Street was a solid album—I said as much in a review album (here)—and I fully expected it to launch a career worthy if not of the old major label successes, at least one of full-on respectability. I suppose it did that. I can't tell. Sometimes I, too, feel lost in this Phoenix rising from the ashes of the old music industry. But even with that I cannot help but wonder why she is not better known. I remember listening to Water Landing, a song off of Bright Street, and comparing it to Neko Case's Star Witness, my favorite Case song of that moment. They did not sound all that much alike but there was something in both which caught my ear and dragged it twenty yards—was it Emo Phillips who used that on one of his comedy albums?—and all I knew (and know, for it happens even today) was that there were two special songs which had dug deep into my psyche and would never let go.
Somehow between 2006 and the present I fell into the dreaded black hole and missed Speace's well-received The Killer In Me album. I assume I was buried beneath a mountain of albums to be explored and/or reviewed because I would never have knowingly overlooked it. I bemoan the fact that there are not enough minutes in the day to give proper respect to all of the excellent music out there, but no problem. I shall soon backtrack.
Today, I have a new album to listen to and enjoy—Land Like a Bird—and I couldn't be more pleased. In my mind, I place the Bright Street and Land Like together on a shelf saying, up-and-comer Amy Speace, meet who you will be in four or five years. I loved Bright Street, but I have to tell you—and I use this phrase too much but can find no words at present to say it better—Momma, our little girl is growing up. Land Like a Bird is a tremendous leap from Bright Street, and it should be, but damn, it really is! This is a more mature Speace, more comfortable and more confident than she was in the Bright Street days, and she was plenty good enough then.
The mark of a choice album is that there are few times a lyric or musical phrase pulls you out of that special place the music takes you. On Land Like a Bird, from the opening beat of Drive All Night to the fadeout of Real Love Song, Speace nails every twist and turn, every curve, every stop and go. Her voice carries each song without leading, her phrasing so spot on it is aurally invisible. A lot of credit goes to producer and sideman Neilson Hubbard and the musicians chosen for this project, of course, but without the lineup of outstanding songs and Speace's dedication to those songs, this album would not be what it is.
As usual with the albums which really impress me, favorite tracks are practically impossible to choose. After a number of listens, I am quite taken by the fifties values of It's Too Late To Call It a Night, a track which, if available back then, could have graced a Patsy Cline or a Dinah Washington album with ease, the light lounge blues feel perfect for both. The semi-electronic lead-in to Land Like a Bird catches me by surprise every time because it gives way to a chorus of melodic beauty which takes my breath away. Half Asleep & Wide Awake is a great light-rocker made better by stellar guitar work which takes it to an altogether 'nother level and if she has to cover any song, thank the gods she chose one the quality of Ron Sexsmith's Galbraith Street. Vertigo is a bit of Water Landing in the way it is structured and arranged, and you might think that there are enough love songs out there until you hear the breathtaking Real Love Song and realize that maybe there aren't.
You know, one part of me wants Amy Speace to become a star or even superstar but another part of me wants her to stay right where she is. It is a cruel thing to say, I know, and apologies to Amy, but Land Like a Bird is proof that she is in a zone, you know? And it's hard enough to write one good song, let alone a number of them. Try it sometime. Then try sequencing ten or twelve in just the right order and just the right way like it is done here. Not easy. Next to impossible. But they did it. And we're the winners. Think of it as the musical lottery. You could win too. Check it out.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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