For The Sake Of The Song: Amy Speace “The Sea & The Shore”

artwork for Amy Speace EP "Same Old Storm"

“Amy Speace is on a roll. Each new release has brought an expansion of her voice and art, and she has reached the level of absolute mastery. Folk music doesn’t get any better than this”. Sadly not my words, though I concur completely with their sentiment, but rather this accolade comes from non other than Mary Gauthier, undoubtedly one of the finest songwriters to emerge from Nashville since the turn of the century, and therefore someone that knows a thing or two on the art of songwriting. In truth Gauthier is not alone in waxing lyrically on the artistic skills of Speace, who over the last two decades has released ten solo albums since her debut ‘Fable’ (2002), and today is seen very much as a “writer’s writer”, positioning her in the same halcyon company as Gretchen Peters, the late great David Olney and the aforementioned Gauthier.

Speace, a former Shakespearian actress started her singing career in the iconic clubs of New York City where she came to the attention of such folk royalty as Tom Paxton, Janis Ian, and Judy Collins who would become a mentor, signing Speace to her ‘Wildflower’ record label in 2006. By 2009 she had relocated to Nashville releasing ‘The Killer In Me’ that year, followed with ‘Land Like A Bird’ (2011), and in 2013 ‘How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat’, on which this article’s chosen song ‘The Sea & The Shore’ originally appeared. Sung as a duet, with John Fullbright taking on the role of The Sea, with Speace The Shore, the track could be described fundamentally as a love ballad, but it is the poetic narrative along with the achingly beautiful vocal delivery that lifts this song to a different plateau. Here within this lyrical masterpiece lies so much of what makes Speace one of the finest songwriters of her generation. Her subject matters and setting chosen carefully, her words even more so, creating a level of poetry that could be compared to the greats of the romantic movement such as Byron or Shelley, capturing such desire and vulnerability, passion and trauma and in just 4 minutes delivering an epic drama that would surely be the envy of most storytellers. In fact, I feel Mr Shakespeare himself may have doffed his hat in approval at such creative ingenuity and sagacious poetry.

In 2014 Speace would re-record this song for the release of her EP ‘Same Old Storm’, this time as a solo performance which is the version I have chosen. Not as a slight on the original, far from it, but purely because this was the way Speace performed it when I first saw her live at The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey, back before the pandemic closed everything down. Her voice is one of the finest around, all the more rounded and authentic by life’s experiences, including her own early life trauma that was suppressed and hidden in the long shadows for many years, that enables her to find strength within the vulnerable, wisdom within the elementary, and beauty in the unadorned.

Most of all Speace is a wordsmith, a published poet, with essays published in the ‘New York Times‘, who uses her unique talent to communicate, sharing her stories, that help teach us about ourselves. The fact she is not a household name nor at the very least the go-to songwriter for all Americana music fans is surely one of life’s mysteries, but hopefully that accolade is still to come. In the meantime, listen to the ‘The Sea & The Shore’, and if it doesn’t pull on your heartstrings as you continuously press the replay button then may I suggest you check your pulse.

About Graeme Tait 123 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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Alan Peatfield

Little to add, Graeme; as usual, an excellent appraisal. One of only 4 concerts at Kirton in 2020 but it was an outstanding one. I believe (if my ailing memory hasn’t let me down!) she’d just come off the back of an award at the Americana Music Assoc. in London. Whatever, she was buzzing that night. Yes, “The Sea & the Shore” is an outstanding track … but as you rightly enthuse, so too are many others of hers. Great to have her acknowledged.