In a recent New York Times article, Amy Speace writes, “I am a musician. I do not have a ‘day job.’ This is my day job. And I make a living at my art, which is a dream fulfilled. But many of us working-class musicians, painters, artists and writers live a precarious financial existence of our own choosing.”
The editors of the section -- a collection of first-person dispatches about financial turning points -- also commissioned Speace and fellow Nashville musician/producer Neilson Hubbard to write an original song. “Spent” was the result. The irony is inescapable, that a folksinger who moved from New York to Nashville would write an article appearing in the financial section of the Times. But such is the essence of the multi-talented, many-layered artist that is Amy Speace.
To an intimate gathering of hardcore fans, Speace pulled almost exclusively from her latest album, That Kind of Girl, an emotionally gripping collection of songs recorded in three days at Hubbard’s Mister Lemons Studio in Nashville. She wrote the songs on the other side of a broken relationship, looking back at the mess of it while trying to find some healing. The effort takes on a distinctly Viktor Frankl quality, finding meaning from suffering, weaving slender threads of heartbreak into solid patterns of art.
With Hubbard on drums, and Megan Palmer on violin, she opened with the album’s first three tracks, “Nothing Good Can Come from This,” “Come Pick Me Up,” and “Better Than This,” which set the audience directly into the narrative. Palmer’s atmospheric and flawless violin provided perfect accompaniment, while Hubbard’s drums pulsed with the emotional impact of a quickening heartbeat.
Speace paused to explain the inherent cathartic nature in writing and recording these songs, adding with a big grin, “When we’re done with these songs, we’re fine. We leave the sadness with you guys.” She then launched into the mesmerizing gospel blues of “Three Days.”
Moving to piano for “That Kind of Girl” (co-written with Ryan Culwell), she shared stories of her early days in NYC as a Shakespearean actor, but humbly admitted she was more of a low-rent, Lower East Side version, doing “Shakespeare in the parking lot” rather than in the park. The riveting title track was the first song she’d ever written on piano, and was gorgeously rendered here. She then dipped back for “The Killer in Me” (2009) and “The Sea and the Shore” from the album How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat, her deeply poetic, confident and ambitious weaving of grace and grief through characters in Shakespeare’s plays.
Performed for the first time in public, “Spent” resonated with undeniable frankness, while “In Chicago” provided a jumpy respite with Palmer featured on hoedown-style fiddle.
Introducing the modern ballad “Strange Medicine”, Speace (a Baltimore native) revealed a fascinating story behind the Maryland coast’s beach hierarchy, where class distinctions were dictated by the choicest shoreline locales, and where certain rich young girls “in trouble” would inexplicably disappear for eight months before returning, slightly shamed.
The Irish-tinged “Hymn for the Crossing” (co-written with Ben Glover) proved a fitting and rousing finale: “The many miles we have roamed / Each one a mark upon our bones / In the end we leave alone / So until then, just sing me home.”
Neilson Hubbard, in addition to drums, opened the show on guitar and vocals with selections from his solo albums, notably "Drive" and "Break The Skin" along with a wistfully gritty cover of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." Hubbard also played a selection from his compelling Orphan Brigade project with Joshua Ryan Britt and Ben Glover, all three of whom spent time writing songs by candlelight inside an 1800s antebellum haunted house with assorted other special (non-ghostly) guests .
Photo by Tom Garland