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.