Amy Speace – the former Shakespearean-trained actor who is known for her literate, detailed songwriting and versatile, expressive vocals – has announced the September 6th release of Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne, a collection of exquisite lyrical portraits in miniature that she says “is about life and death and the journey of all dreamers.”
Produced by longtime collaborator Neilson Hubbard and recorded during the final weeks of Speace’s pregnancy with her first son at age 50, ‘Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne’ captures Speace at her most nakedly honest, with sparsely-decorated songs that double down on her larger-than-life voice and detail-rich songwriting. It’s an album about the colliding of dreams and reality, full of characters making sense of their lives when something is lost and then found. Really, it’s an album about the trials and triumphs of an artist’s journey – a journey that’s no longer focused upon the destination, but upon the actual trip itself.
Discovered and mentored by folk-pop icon Judy Collins, Speace left her career as a classically-trained Shakespearean actress and, instead, kicked off a string of acclaimed albums, including Songs For Bright Street, The Killer In Me, and How to Sleep In A Stormy Boat. Championed by The New York Times, NPR and more, she received further acclaim as a member of Applewood Road , a harmony-heavy trio whose self-titled album became a critical success in the UK, earning a five-star review from The Sunday Times .
Speace blends the best parts of American roots music — gospel, alt-country, folk, classic pop — into her own songs. Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne follows in that diverse tradition, but it also shines its light on a new Amy Speace: a clear-eyed, re-energized songwriter who’s done with chasing things that don’t matter…but isn’t anywhere close to being done with her art.
Amy plays The Green Note on Wednesday September 4th and The Long Road Festival on Sunday September 8th
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For many artists, stepping into a studio to record an album can be challenging enough. But when East Nashvillian Korby Lenker began working on his seventh album, Thousand Springs, he decided to skip the studio altogether and head to his home state of Idaho to record in places that held particular meaning for him. Venturing forth with his guitar, some recording gear and a tent, he captured his vocal and guitar parts in more than a dozen locales, including the edge of the Snake River Canyon, a cabin north of Sun Valley and his undertaker father’s mortuary.
Then he spent months driving around the country to collect vocal and instrumental contributions from nearly 30 of today’s finest folk talents, among them Nora Jane Struthers, Anthony Da Costa, Carrie Elkin, Amy Speace, Molly Tuttle, Kai Welch, Angel Snow, Becky Warren and the Punch Brothers’ Chris “Critter” Eldridge. In Madison, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin and Nashville, he recorded their work in backyards, hotel rooms and even a bookstore, then went home to edit them into Thousand Springs.
Lenker plotted his plan for Thousand Springs after Nashville-based Turner Publishing Co. released his first collection of short stories, Medium Hero, in December 2015 – an experience that, he says, helped him find his “true voice” (and earned him high praise not only from book-world luminaries including Kirkus Reviews and National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien, but Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak).
“For me, the two most important qualities of good art are originality and meaning,” Lenker explains. “You’ve got to tell your own story and not try to borrow someone else’s.”
When he moved to Nashville, he quickly discovered singer-songwriters were about as common as pickup trucks. And most of them were about as original.
“It forced me to really dig in and figure out what I did that was different than what everyone else was doing,” he says. “I spent my first three years in town parking cars at a hotel and taking a bunch of chances, creatively speaking. No one really cared about me, which turned out to be very freeing.”
During that period, he wrote many of the stories in Medium Hero, and focused on writing songs that meant something to him rather than worrying about hit potential.
“Along the way, I discovered there was an audience for this approach to telling my story,” he says. It was a thrilling, and empowering, revelation.
In the years since, he’s played everywhere from small listening rooms to Seattle’s world-renowned Bumbershoot festival, delivering what American Songwriter magazine called “huggable folk-pop” on stages shared with artists from Willie Nelson, Keith Urban and Chris Isaak to Susan Tedeschi, Amy Grant and Nickel Creek. Along the way, he’s earned nearly a dozen songwriting awards, including first-place wins at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, 2012’s Kerrville Folk Festival and 2006’s Merlefest. He also placed second in the 2017 Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest for ‘Friend and A Friend’, a beguiling Thousand Springs track co-written with Molly Tuttle, who sings harmony. Allowing life to imitate art, Lenker also has been conducting a one-man campaign of sorts, engaging strangers for conversation and shared selfies in an Instagram-hosted exercise he calls #MakeAmericaFriendsAgain. (He also touches on that subject in a new song titled ‘Let’s Just Have Supper’. Written and performed with Struthers, it’s not on this album, but the NPR-premiered video, is worth checking out.)
Ironically, while recording Thousand Springs (and making friends), Lenker lost his voice for nearly two months.
Addressing the loss of a dear family member, Lenker wrote the affecting song ‘Wherever You Are’ while his voice was gone. He also visited the Vanderbilt Voice Center, where doctors immediately started him on physical therapy. Soon, he was recording again. He did ‘Wherever You Are’ solo, in one take. It’s one of five songs he penned alone; the other seven are collaborations with a variety of musical friends including Speace, Tuttle, Robby Hecht, Jon Weisberger and Liz Longley.
Coincidentally, the song that precedes it, ‘Mermaids’, has an understated lightheartedness, almost a softer ‘Magical Mystery Tour’/’Yellow Submarine’ vibe, that would easily appeal to kids. Throughout the album, Lenker deftly shifts through a wide range of moods. He captures his love of literature with charming playfulness in ‘Book Nerd’. The opener, “Northern Lights,” is a spare, contemplative tune containing just a couple of verses, but Lenker’s vivid imagery and forlorn voice are all he needs to speak volumes about lost love.
There’s a delicacy to most of these songs, due in part to Lenker’s gentle delivery; in ‘Nothing Really Matters’, he sounds as if he’s whispering in your ear – in a voice that somehow suggests both James Taylor and Michael Franks, delivered in an Afro-bluegrass style. Driven by Jon Reischman’s outstanding mandolin, it’s reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland; Lenker cites both the artist and the album as major influences.
The hardest-rocking track, ‘Last Man Standing’, was written about Chief Sitting Bull after Lenker read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. He recorded parts of it at Standing Rock, near Sitting Bull’s grave, a month before the Dakota-Access Pipeline protests began. Musically, the song more or less references his own roots; Lenker started studying piano at age 7 and picked up guitar in his early teens, playing a lot of Neil Young and similar artists before joining the obligatory high-school rock band (his was Clockwork Orange).
“There weren’t a lot of people around me making music,” he says about growing up in Idaho’s isolation. “I had to go out and find it.” His search included attending college in Bellingham, Washington, where he studied music theory – and Phish. Reading about jazz led him to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller – and to an understanding that, as he puts it, “music had a story, a thread that went from musician to musician, through time.” “The idea of finding my place in that timeline has become more and more important to me,” he notes, adding, “Every time I play a show, I think of it as an audition for the next show. Everything for me is a slow build.”
That might explain another of the album’s delights: ‘Late Bloomers’, in which he sings, Here’s to the late bloomers/Holding on till their time arrives/Some people might have gotten there sooner/But for us, it’s gonna be right on time … No matter how hard the path was/We always knew/No dream can outlast us/When it’s coming true.
For Lenker, as for any of us, some dreams come true and some don’t. That’s just life. But on Thousand Springs, he shares those highs and lows as only an artist with a “true voice” can. And that voice, he’ll never lose.
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In September 2014, three songwriters met for the first time in a cafe in East Nashville. By the next morning they had put the finishing touches to their first song, ‘Applewood Road’, which they recorded live to tape at Nashville’s all analogue studio, Welcome to 1979.
The song’s nostalgic air, along with the clear, sparse arrangement of three vocals accompanied by double bass, drew immediate positive response, and they decided to expand the idea into a full album.
Six months later, they reconvened to write, rehearse and record songs for the self-titled album Applewood Road. The songs were again performed live around a single microphone at Welcome to 1979 and recorded to two-track tape with minimal accompaniment from some of Nashville’s finest session players, including Aaron Lee Tasjan, Josh Day, Fats Kaplin, Jabe Beyer, and Telisha Williams.
The tapes were assembled at London’s most exclusive high-end mastering suite, Gearbox Records, mastered through their vintage analogue outboard, and lacquers cut in-house on their own Haeco lathe.
Applewood Road is Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace.
Those for whom the highlight of the Oh Brother soundtrack was the coming together of Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch will undoubtedly have been disappointed that no further recordings by the trio followed. This album is for them. Meeting for the first time in the autumn of 2014, within two hours Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace had written their first song. So pleased where they with the following week’s recordings, they decided to get back together and record some more. Six months later, with the help of guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan, Telisha Williams on upright bass, drummer Josh Day, Jabe Beyer on harmonica and the great Fats Kaplin on accordion and fiddle, the album was completed, live to stereo tape.
Barker will, of course, be familiar from both her solo work and with Red Clay Halo, not to mention being responsible for the theme music to the BBC series Wallander and The Shadow Line, the latter of which won an Ivor Novello. A former actress, Peace, who was discovered by Judy Collins, has also released several critically acclaimed albums, among them How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat and That Kind of Girl, her song ‘Weight of the World’ being ranked fourth best Folk Song of the Decade by leading New York radio station WFUV.
Rubarth is probably a lesser known quantity, though she too has released a clutch of well reviewed albums as well as co-founding Brooklyn indie outfit The Paper Raincoat whose work has featured in, among others, One Tree Hill.
Here, they variously contribute collaborative and solo material, kicking off with the eponymous title track, the first and only song they wrote together, a dreamy, slow strummed close harmony leaving home number, the three voices backed just by upright bass. Next up is the first from Rubarth (whose name appears on seven of the 13 credits), co-writing with Norah Jones’ guitarist Adam Levy on ‘To The Stars’, a song that combines wishes, the magic of radio, love, life and mortality all in three minutes.
Elsewhere Rubarth joins writing forces with Adrianne Gonzalez and Garrison Starr on the guitar snare and claps gospel shuffle ‘Honey Won’t You’, and, Peace taking lead, Josh Day for the Van Gogh inspired ‘Row Boat’, the boat bobbing rhythm carried by a drum played in the manner of a tape loop.
Writing solo, she contributes ‘Old Time Country Song’, which, featuring fiddle, banjo and a false start to capture that live moment, sounds exactly as you would expect from the title; the Louvinsesque front porch good time ‘Lovin’ Eyes’ with Tasjan picking nylon string guitar; and the brief album closer lullaby ‘My Love Grows’.
Other than the title track, Peace is only credited on two numbers, her solo offering being ‘Josephine’, a mid-tempo, fiddle and guitar backed free spirit song to her niece written from the perspective of her twin brother. She also co-writes with Robby Hecht on the gentle first flames of romance that is ‘Give Me Love’ featuring Barker’s plucked banjo and Kaplin’s wheezing accordion. Hecht also pairs with Barker on ‘I’m Not Afraid Anymore’, Tasjan playing slide on a keening song about acknowledging when a relationship has run its course.
The album’s remaining three tracks are all penned by Barker, the first up being ‘Home Fires’ which, with minimally picked acoustic guitar and soaring three part harmonies, uses winter imagery to speak of how when you open your heart, you have to take in hurt as well as joy, but how you need to keep the fires burning to survive the cold. Built around a banjo riff and harmonica ‘Sad Little Tune’, an upbeat number about not taking things you already have for granted while wishing for more. And, finally, written, like that, in Western Australia and inspired by the bushfires burning while she was there, there’s the breezy cooing harmonies of the 30s flavoured ‘Bring The Car Round’, a similarly themed song about holding on to what matters. Unfussy and rather lovely, their voices flowing beautifully together this is a true delight and it’s to be hoped that this road is the start of a journey rather than the culmination of one.
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In September 2014, three songwriters – Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace – met for the first time in a cafe in East Nashville. Two hours later they had written the song they called ‘Applewood Road’. They booked studio time at Nashville’s super cool analogue studio Welcome To 1979 and the following week recorded the song live to tape with just double bass as accompaniment.
So excited were they by the song and the way that their voices blended together, they decided to expand the idea into a whole album. So, six months later, they reconvened in Nashville to write, rehearse and record twelve more songs with both the project and album called Applewood Road.
Back at Welcome To 1979, the songs were all recorded live to stereo tape with minimal accompaniment from some hugely talented session players – guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan, Fats Kaplin on accordion, Telisha Williams on upright bass, Jabe Beyer on harmonica and drummer Josh Day. The completed album was then handed over to the expert hands of Gearbox Records in London to be mastered at their vintage analogue studio, complete with their own 1967 Heaco Scully lathe, Westrex amplifiers and Studer tape machines.
Applewood Road made their performance debut in Nashville during AmericanaFest 2015. A visit to the UK followed with live shows including Union Chapel in London, a showcase at Tileyard Studios and album playback at Gearbox Records, as well as a live radio session for Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show where they performed ‘Applewood Road’ and REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’.
The album Applewood Road will be released on 12th February 2016 as a 180gram vinyl album with free 24-bit 48kHz download. It will also be released as a compact disc and digital stream & download.
Emily, Amber and Amy will return to London for the launch of the album in early February and are available for interview. “Making our way down Applewood Road…….”
Emily Barker is the award-winning songwriter and performer of the theme to BBC TV’s Wallander. She has also provided the theme music to BBC drama The Shadow Line (which won an Ivor Novello for best TV soundtrack) and has recently composed music for Daniel Barber’s The Keeping Room as well as her first feature length soundtrack, for Jake Gavin’s UK road movie Hec McAdam starring Peter Mullan. Her music is a blend of roots influences from country to folk via 60s pop and her most recent release is a collection of solo versions of songs from her previous albums: The Toerag Sessions. Emily’s last critically acclaimed album with The Red Clay Halo, Dear River, garnered four and five star reviews in national and specialist publications alike and debuted in the UK Independent Album Breakers chart at #3, spending 5 weeks in the top 20.
‘Heartfelt songwriting… bridging the gap between folk, country and Fleetwood Mac’ The Times
‘Emily Barker has a gift for great melodies’ The Guardian
‘ambitious and beautifully wrought’ Q
‘singer-songwriters are hardly an endangered species in 2013 but there should still be room for those as talented as Emily Barker’ Evening Standard
Amber Rubarth is a critically acclaimed American folk singer and songwriter who has independently released six albums. She tours regularly throughout Europe, the USA and Japan and has performed with many artists including Emmylou Harris, Kenny Loggins, Marc Cohn, Richie Havens, Dr. Ralph Stanley and Jason Mraz. Winner of the NPR Mountain Stage New Song Contest, her sixth studio album “A Common Case of Disappearing” was produced by Grammy Award winning producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Norah Jones) and performed well on the iTunes Singer-Songwriter charts.
In addition to her solo work, Rubarth co-founded the Brooklyn based indie band The Paper Raincoat whose music has been featured widely on TV and films (Disney’s The Last Song, One Tree Hill, Google and Aquafina commercials). Their debut album based on an original fictional story, is currently being expanded into a musical theatre production. Rubarth has also composed for films, including Sundance Film Festival winner Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and the award-winning documentary Desert Runners. She is currently making her acting debut co-starring with Joe Purdy in a feature film set for 2016 release.
Baltimore–born, Nashville-based Folk/Americana songwriter Speace has enjoyed rave reviews for her solo work, including latest album “That Kind Of Girl” and her 2013 record, “How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat,” a song cycle inspired by Shakespearean characters – fittingly for Speace since she started her creative career as an actress with The National Shakespeare Company in NYC before being discovered in a folk club by Judy Collins. Her debut “Songs For Bright Street” was released in 2006 on Collins’ Wildflower Records. “The Killer In Me” followed in 2009 with NPR comparing her to a young Lucinda Williams, then “Land Like A Bird” on the Thirty Tigers label. Her track “The Weight of the World” was named #4 Folk Song of the Decade by NYC’s premiere AAA radio station WFUV. Her songs have been recorded by Judy Collins, Red Molly, Memphis Hall of Fame blues artist Sid Selvidge and others. She has recorded duets with Ian “Mott The Hoople” Hunter, Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), Sid Selvidge, Soozie Tyrell (The E-Street Band), John Fullbright and John Moreland and has toured with Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Mary Gauthier, Ian Hunter, Judy Collins, Shawn Colvin, Alejandro Escovedo and many others.
“Amy Speace channels the classics” Billboard Magazine
“The next time someone tells you they don’t make good music anymore, tell them they must not have heard of Amy Speace. She is a timeless singer/songwriter”. No Depression
A UK tour from late June with David Berkeley and Peter Bradley Adams should bring overdue wider recognition for Hecht, an East Tennessee born singer-songwriter who’s overcome bipolar disorder to record what are, with the release of his latest, three outstanding albums.
Blessed with a honeyed and soulful voice that blends elements of Marc Cohn, Don McLean, Justin Rutledge and Paul Simon and superbly produced by Lex Price, he delivers a warm brew of mellow rootsy Americana in a relaxed, unhurried style, his songs reflecting the ebb and flow of the heart, whether addressing the end of a relationship as on ‘I Don’t Believe It’, the strangers in the night memory of ‘Cars And Bars’, the celebration of life that is ‘Feeling It Now’ where he references his own personal struggle or the drum thumping march beat bittersweet love song to New York City.
Elsewhere that same laid back groove casts a comforting glow over the slow waltzing ‘Soon I As Sleeping’, a melancholic sorrows-drowning duet with Rose Cousins, the jazzy, horns-backed late night mood of ‘The Light Is Gone’’s lost love (where his voice almost breaks down with hurt) and the dreamy star-lit night skies feel of ‘When I’m With You Now’.
Although he does tranquil and forlorn to perfection, there is one musically upbeat track, the pedal steel coloured, scuffling rhythm of ‘Papa’s Down The Road Dead’ (despite what you might expect, it’s more celebratory than downcast) which has a similar vibe to Simon’s ‘Born At The Right Time’, minus, of course, the Latin American touches. Even the title sounds Simonesque.
As with his previous albums, there’s one cover version, the choice this time being ‘Hard Times’ by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings albeit, backed by piano and organ, a somewhat softer, soul-wearied reading than the original, while those fortunate to have discovered the stellar talents of Amy Speace will be familiar with ‘The Sea And The Shore’, an achingly beautiful impossible love allegory co-write that previously appeared on her How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat.
While many an artist may enjoy regional success, given the sheer size of the competition out there these days, it’s becoming increasingly harder to break out into the Americana mainstream but if anyone truly deserves to, it is Hecht.