Listening to the title song which opens Amy Speace’s latest album, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a newly discovered relic from the heydays of singer/songwriters, that halcyon time when Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and Judee Sill were really at the cutting edge. Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne is a starkly beautiful piano ballad with a striking string arrangement, written when Speace was in the city of Aachen where the bones of the emperor are entombed. It’s a magnificent capture of road travel weariness, the comedown after the gig, asking ultimately the question, why?
Aside from the singer/songwriters mentioned above, the treatment of the song recalls the baroque folk of Judy Collins who is credited with discovering Speace many moons ago and this album confirms once and for all that Collins is a talent spotter par excellence, remember, she “discovered” Leonard Cohen. Anyhow, Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne, coming after a string of excellent albums from Speace, is perhaps her pinnacle. Recorded in the final days of her first pregnancy (she dedicates the album to her son, “In my belly as I was recording”) it is at times quite intense as she rails against various injustices or soul searches, while there are also some sublimely tender occasions, some of those however having a sting in the tail. Listen to the initial 60’s folk like naiveté of Pretty Girls which finally erupts with crashing guitars as Speace obliquely comments on this Instagram age.
There’s a defiant grandeur in the wonderfully recorded pulsations of the “protest” song, Standing Rock Standing Here, her commentary on the long standing Native American tribe’s struggle with the US government at Standing Rock. Back In Abilene strips back the music to just acoustic guitar and sparse piano in a snapshot of the days following the assassination of JFK. Meanwhile there are more intimate moments as when Speace uses words written by Emily Dickinson on This And My Heart Beside to create a pastoral love letter while the closing song, her version of Ben Glover’s Kindness (described by Speace in the liner notes as, “the most beautiful lullaby I’ve ever heard”) probably touched her then unborn child’s heart as much as it will you, the listener.
Produced by Neilson Hubbard and with contributions from Will Kimbrough, Beth Neilson Chapman, Ben Glover and Eamon McLoughan, Me And The Ghost of Charlemagne is the work of an artist who is at her prime. Mature, thoughtful, engaging, and it sounds wonderful.