Flying Cat Music proudly presents Nashville singer-songwriter Amy Speace accompanied by violinist and vocalist Megan Palmer on Saturday, May 17, in a concert at the Empire State Railway Museum located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. The show begins promptly at 7:30 p.m. with the door opening at 7:00. Admission is $15 at the door or $13 with RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 845-688-9453.
Once called “A rising star” by USA Today, Amy Speace has ascended in the crowded galaxy of Indie music to a point where her glow now is widely noted. Last April alone, Speace was both the spotlighted artist on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered – Weekend Edition” and the featured artist for the weekly New York Times series “Music Match” in the entry “If you like Judy Collins Try Amy Speace.” A comparison to Judy Collins is perhaps unavoidable with Amy, since Collins is widely credited with having first “discovered” Speace, but it’s hard to pigeonhole Amy Speace inside the folk genre. Like Collins, in a way, Amy’s music has folk roots that have grown in diverse and sometimes unexpected directions, so much so that the Houston Press calls Amy Speace “the perfect torchbearer for the unconscious cool of true Americana.”
Speace carries that torch with a voice that gathers superlatives such as these: “She’s a singer with a wide range of emotional dynamics and a fine grasp of how to use them.” The Nashville Scene; “Her velvety, achy voice recalls an early Lucinda Williams. Sounding grounded but wounded.” National Public Radio; “Amy Speace has one of those fetching voices, the kind that taps you on the shoulder and motions seductively for you to follow it around corner after dark corner.” No Depression; while American Songwriter takes notice of her “crystalline vocals.”
Amy Speace’s career arc has taken her from Baltimore, Maryland, to years spent in and around New York City performing both theater and music, and now to her current home in Nashville, which is proving to be fertile ground for her latest artistic collaborations. It’s a little known fact, of strong local interest, that Amy’s move to Nashville was preceded by a stay of several months in a small cabin on the outskirts of Phoenicia, New York, where she managed the alchemy of turning the emotional turmoil of a relationship gone awry into her brilliant third CD, The Killer In Me.
Much has transpired since an employee of Judy Collins asked for Speace’s demo in 2006 after seeing Amy perform a small acoustic showcase at a music conference. That led to her opening for Judy Collins on tour later that year, and Judy’s own label, Wildflower Records turning Amy’s demo into Speace’s second CD, Songs For Bright Street. Most of the fans who discovered Amy’s music in the wake of her new prominence were unaware of Speace’s prior successful career in theater, as an actor/director/playwright who toured with the National Shakespeare Company. Since her days touring with Judy Collins, Amy Speace has also toured as an opening act for legendary Americana artists Shawn Colvin, Guy Clark and Nanci Griffith, but her ties to Shakespeare, as it turns out, were never fully severed.
Amy Speace’s latest collection of original songs, How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat, has garnished rave reviews, including this from American Songwriter “You don’t need to know they were inspired by Shakespeare plays to appreciate the intricate wordplay and expressive breadth at play.” As National Public Radio describes it in a prelude to the interview they broadcast with Amy on All Things Considered: “Until recently, she kept her songwriting and Shakespeare-ing separate. But her newest album, How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat, released this week, includes a Shakespearean quote in every song. Desdemona, Caesar, Juliet, and Henry V all show up in the album’s liner notes.” Speace explains why in that interview:
“I ended up losing my voice for about two months… It was terrifying. You know, honestly, I woke up one day, and I couldn’t talk, and it didn’t come back… So I got under the care of a doctor, and it turned out to be a lot of stress . . . I was going through this period of, like, what if this is it? What if I have to do something else? And in that time period, I just started reading a lot. For some reason, I had the collected work sitting on my desk . . . the voices inside your head don’t go quiet when you go quiet. So some of my own lyrics were kind of coming back at me, and they were talking to some of these snippets of Shakespearian dialog.”
The liner notes for How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat were penned by Dave Marsh, a music critic and biographer of Bruce Springsteen, whose reviews have been featured in the Village Voice and Rolling Stone Magazine. He calls it “. . . the most daring, confident, ambitious and beautiful album Amy Speace has made. . .” He goes on to state, “Speace’s songs hang together like a good short story collection . . .” adding “They are also brought together by the music, which has a constant low-key turbulence that invites some of Speace’s most subtle singing . . .”
Speace has some impressive backing on this album, including collaborative guest appearances by Grammy nominee John Fullbright, Americana Music Association award winner Mary Gauthier, and rising Indie cellist Ben Sollee.
How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat is an exquisite offering of interwoven songs far more supple than a typical concept album. It is unhesitatingly poetic, allowing sorrow, strength, beauty, love, and loss to permeate deeply. Clearly Amy is inside that stormy boat, but she’s not in there alone. Shards of her life are reflected in its lyrics, embedded in a mosaic of moments that many of us have lived also, sometimes willingly, other times under duress.
Amy opens the CD with an intimate anthem, “We Are the Fortunate Ones” which foreshadows the journey about to be embarked on with verses such as those that close the song:
We’re the raging pretenders, five time offenders
Hurting nobody more than ourselves
We are the fortunate ones
We are the fortunate ones
We’re impossible light, but we’re holding on tight
To hearts we took down from the shelves
We are the fortunate ones
We are the fortunate ones.
It’s a poignant sentiment from an important artist.