Monday, 16 September 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Amy Speace - Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne : Proper Records

Amy Speace made a fleeting visit to the UK recently playing a handful of shows including an afternoon slot at the Long Road Festival. Her parting shot was leaving us with the most glorious of records and an outstanding reminder to what an all-round talent she is. A spacious delay between full length albums, punctuated by an EP release and an active involvement in the Applewood Road collaboration project, has served to further whet the appetite of those who intently listened to a pair of albums catapulting the name Amy Speace into directed overseas listening circles. As effective as HOW TO SLEEP IN A STORMY BOAT and LAND LIKE A BIRD resonated in the years between 2011 and 2013, the hot-off-the press new album moves the dial along significantly further. ME AND THE GHOST OF CHARLEMAGNE emerges categorically as a work of art, theatrically gracing a lavish canvas.

A north easterner by background now submerged in the songs and sounds of the south, this Nashville based artist is at the heart of a community that ploughs down an alternative route, both culturally and politically to much of what defines this southern city. Many absorbed in the music of this community will not be surprised that Neilson Hubbard was handed the production duties and thus joining a growing stable of excellent recent releases to have his name inked onto the credits in a self-assuming yet truly diligent way. The eleven tracks housing the memorable forty-eight minutes playing time stride like a majestic march through the annals of classic singer-songwriting, whilst commanding a showtime feel for eager ears. 

Ten of these unveil as either Amy Speace solo or co-writes with the odd one out being album closer ‘Kindness’. This track written by fellow Nashville resident Ben Glover is a prime case of a tight knit community sharing fine songs and follows in the recording tracks of its writer including it on his 2018 award winning SHOREBOUND album. Contrasting the vocal styles of Amy Speace and Ben Glover could fill a notebook several times over, but let’s say merit is purely comparative with the former’s archetypal pristine ballad vocals taking the song in a different but equally as breathtaking direction. 

A recurring theme of 2019 stellar releases has been a stunning opening track and ME AND THE GHOST OF CHARLEMAGNE is right on the ball with a song bearing the name of the album’s title. Speace’s lyrics prick the ear casting a net of wanting to know where they originate and where they are heading. Not only does this record start on the top shelf, but elevates slightly higher in the follow-on track, ‘Grace of God’. A classy standout candidate should one be sought. 

Album narrative peaks deep in the second half with the period piece ‘Back in Abilene’ as events of November 1963 spin off in a surprising direction. Here subtle acoustic guitar elegantly soundtracks Speace’s reflective vocals, in contrast to strident piano featuring prominently in the albums’s early throes. 

Other highlights include the Jonathan Byrd co-write ‘Standing Rock Standing Here’,provoking thought like so much of his work does, and the slightly more produced effort ‘Some Dreams Do’ featuring vocal contributions from Ben Glover and Beth Nielsen Chapman. Not names you see listed together too often. 

ME AND THE GHOST OF CHARLEMAGNE is an album not to be rushed and sways in whichever mood you wish to enjoy it in. A release on Proper Records widens its availability in the UK so you can choose your opportune moment to engage. Amy Speace may juggle priorities, but when focussing on channelling her hugely impressive songwriting and vocal skills, she delivers in epic portions.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Jeremy Ivey - The Dream and the Dreamer : ANTI - Records

A couple of years ago Jeremy Ivey played a pretty low key opening set at the Bullingdon in Oxford that quickly slipped from the memory bank. This was escalated by a scintillating performance from the headliner of which the opener had more than a little in common with. Whether or not any of the songs from his debut album featured on the night is probably immaterial, but that would certainly change when the time comes for him to return to a UK stage. While that day awaits, the release of THE DREAM AND THE DAYDREAMER will give Jeremy Ivey's solo career a huge shot in the arm and it will comfortably sit in many a listening repertoire.

9 tracks and 33 minutes playing time suggests limitations, but sometimes less is more, an odd conundrum that comes into play here. Not a second of a tight landscape is wasted as Ivey gears his songwriting to a wide range of issues from the deeply personal to others of a more macro persuasion. The whole soundtrack echoes shades of country music caught up in a psychedelic haze, with an occasional rock tinge. It also contains an impressive amount of hooks and levers controlling moves in a shortened timescale.

From opening track 'Diamonds Back to Coal' suggesting some sort of environmental reversal to the record ending with the ultimate thoughtful comparison piece 'The Dream and the Dreamer', the whole listening experience is a smooth event. Peaks across the canvas rise with the dreamy blissful second track 'Falling Man' and the country pairing of 'Worry Doll' and 'Greyhound'. The latter represents the album's summit and the source of the duet unravels the picture further.

Almost twelve months ago Ruston Kelly released a solo album that met with critical acclaim proving that there is a creative force in both halves of the Ruston Kelly-Kacey Musgraves marital partnership. Music from that release reached award nominee status and a progression that could be replicated in THE DREAM AND THE DREAMER. Similarities extend in that Jeremy Ivey is also the spouse of a successful artist, in this instance Margo Price. One difference is that she has taken a far more pro-active role in her husband's record. Not only being the duet partner on the standout track, but also taking the reins on the production duties and helping to shape an album that will resonate strongly with many.

From the small acorn of opening for his wife in Oxford in early 2017 to releasing an album fit to challenge the best in the Americana genre, the journey of Jeremy Ivey is beginning to gather pace. The largest leap is to put out a very good record. The next step is see how far momentum from the team can carry it. I wouldn't bet against a fair distance.