Amy Speace delivers – simple as that.
Fathers and Daughters. Mothers and Sons. Only the most complex of familial relationships are examined on Amy Speace’s latest album which she notes was “written between my son’s first birthday and my father’s death, 4 months after his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.” There’s a natural contrast in the growth of a maternal love with the paternal fading, which is not an ebbing of love just a straight ebbing away. Opener ‘Down the Trail‘ is a flurry of nostalgic recollections focused most clearly on that childhood feeling of complete safety “Driving with the top-down / Baby blue Pontiac / 10 feet off the ground / My brother and me in the back“, all sung to a gentle folk strum of guitars and mandolin, with dreamlike strings perfectly matching the mood of recollection. And then there’s the pain of the present delivered as a perfect acceptance “Daughter my heart is steady / Daughter I’ve got to go / Daughter my heart is ready / For that trail to take me home“. It’s the perfect opening.
The title track takes that pain and contrasts it with how everything changes and most significantly how things that once were, do not last forever – the horses are gone, even the stables. “They’ve torn down the old brick house / Now there’s just a big hole in the earth” acts as a symbol of an even greater loss. “And I wanted to see them that day in October / Running fast up the hill to the sky” plays straight into a searing truth “And I came back to see him so I could remember / The faded blue of his eyes / I wanted to see him fly off to forever / One more time” lifted by Amy Speace’s soaring vocal. And here we are butting up, again, against perfection. ‘Father’s Day‘, a co-write with Jon Vezner (of the DonJuans) takes both those strands and twists them together into lyrics that are hard to bear, a recollection inspired by an old photograph “Mom’s behind the camera / I was standing next to you / On Father’s Day.” It’s a poignant image, that expands into memories of woodland treks: “Keep talking of the trees, Dad / Your favourite one the beech, Dad / As you fade away from me. Dad.”
There is a counter-balance – life’s like that, there may be great grief, but there’s often something else going on that demands attention and unknowingly offers a consolation. For Amy Speace it is her young son, and ‘One Year‘ achieves that which is rarely achieved – to eulogise one’s child without creating a structure of saccharine. It could, so easily, have been lullabized to its ruination – fortunately it keeps to the pace of life, much to do, much to observe, endless moments of watching “the dance of mother and child / You in my arms asleep” whilst all the same a year rolls by in just a moment “Time slows then speeds like a train / Sleep ebbs and rolls like a wave / In one year of endless days / Everything is changed.” It’s Amy Speace’s ability to paint vivid images with her words that makes ‘Mother is a Country‘, sung over a string quartet accompaniment, an astonishing song – there’s beauty and practicality mixed together here “Mother is a country / A whale beached in the brine of the shallows / Counting her breath while laying on her side / And the needle drips and the voices blur / The pull of bones and he slips to earth.”
There are love songs too, ‘Shotgun Hearts‘ is a recollection of a youthful relationship, whilst ‘Give Me Love‘ is an earnest appeal to the romantic possibilities of now: “I want you to come on inside / Come on let’s not waste time / Gimme love gimme love gimme love.” And in a nod to the last year or so the album closes out with an ensemble cover of Warren Zevon’s folky ‘Don’t Let Us Get Sick‘. There’s surely more than just a pandemic reference in “Don’t let us get sick / Don’t let us get old / Don’t let us get stupid, all right?” If the previous release from Amy Speace ‘Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne‘ was something of a breakthrough, bringing deserved accolades then ‘There Used to be Horses Here‘ shows that it was not a one-off, here we have a singer and songwriter continuing at the height of their powers – and showing the remarkable good sense to involve Josh Britt, Neilson Hubbard and Ben Glover amongst others in a musical project that is undeniably personal but really shines with shared experiences. This is an album that has to be heard.