In the case of Amy Speace, I’d seen her perform years ago at the Evening Muse in Charlotte. She was a solid performer and writer then, and at that point had already been working the singer/songwriter circuit for a good while.
But what often sticks with me when I meet an artist is their demeanor offstage, and Speace came across as remarkably approachable, friendly and totally lacking in pretense. May not seem like much, but in the world of music and those that make it, these can be rare qualities.
I picked up a copy of her album Fable, which was a mostly acoustic folk oriented affair, listened to it a few times, and put it in my collection of “under the radar indie music.” Time passed.
Years later I find Songs For Bright Street sitting there, waiting for a review — and it just happens to be Amy Speace’s new CD. A few things hit me within about ten seconds of the opening tune, “Step Out Of The Shade.” Speace’s “folkiness” has given way to a much edgier, gritty form of country-ish rock, and in a very good way. Her talents as a writer still reflect how she is as a person, with none of the personality of her early work sacrificed in her pursuit of a “bigger” sound.
And best of all, she’s one of those artists that displays real growth since her last album, unafraid to embrace new textures and sounds to embellish the songs.
“Step Out Of The Shade” sounds like it could find a place as comfortably on modern country radio as it would an independent “Americana” station. The catch is that, though the chorus has a needle sharp hook, it never comes across like it’s trying too hard — the downfall of so many overly earnest pop-country attempts.
Speace tackles themes that dive a bit deeper than many such artists as well, grappling with touchy subjects like doubt and complacency in love to the difficulty in finding happiness with oneself. Anyone that’s spent time in a long-term relationship may well relate to a song like “Water Landing,” and musically it’s adorned with a gorgeous combination of the classic and the modern, with tremoloed baritone guitar surfacing in places, and some trippy synthesizer warbles and backwards string samples appearing elsewhere.
There are a few of those more rocked-out country/blues numbers here, as on “Not The Heartless Kind” and “The Real Thing,” and though the form is pretty conventional, the stories are told in a crafty, sassy style that saves the songs from a sense of overt familiarity.
Skip a few tracks ahead to “Shed This Skin,’ and Speace manages to channel some of Suzanne Vega’s minimalist vibe from Nine Objects Of Desire during the intro, straying into a simmering, soaring gospel infused chorus. And in “Make Me Lonely Again” she manages to rhyme “falling in love” with “Harold and Maude.” Now that’s talent. The twang powered facelift given to the Blondie classic “Dreaming” disguises the original song’s framework so well that it wasn’t until the chorus that I realized exactly what it was.
Speace’s voice is in fine shape through the course of Songs For Bright Street, and her bio beat me to a point that I’d hoped to be the first one to make: this album sounds like a band, not a group of guys backing up a singer/songwriter. The interplay, arrangement and overall vibe feels like a group of musicians that know each other well, and they’ve no shortage of upcoming gigs to further tighten their sound.
Songs For Bright Street is a smart take on the Americana sound, showcasing Amy Speace as a singer/songwriter who is as unafraid to evolve as she is to peer deep inside at some difficult places to feed her intimate brand of storytelling.