Bio : Amy Speace
“Amy Speace is on a roll. Each new release has brought an expansion of her voice and her art, and she has reached the level of absolute mastery. Her new record Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne is brilliant. The song Ginger Ale and Lorna Doones is a masterpiece, a hard hitting gut punch on every level- voice, melody, words, performance, instrumentation. I nominate it for song of the year, and predict that this song will bring legions of new fans to Amy’s work.
Folk music doesn’t get any better than this.”
A modern folksinger whose music nods to the genre's 1970s glory days, Amy Speace has spent two decades chronicling the high marks, heartbreaks, and hard roads of a life logged on the road. She's been a tireless traveler, chasing the dream from the coffeehouses of New York City to larger stages across the globe. Along the way, she's built an international audience without the help of a major label, relying instead upon a touring schedule whose milestones include the Glastonbury Festival, NPR's Mountain Stage, and a yearly average of 150 shows.
It was midway through a European tour in 2017 that Speace began to question the existence of "the dream." She'd been chasing it for 20 years, running herself ragged, trading the stable comforts of home for a blur of shows, hotel rooms, and car windows. Was the dream just a lie? A fabrication meant to keep the creators creating? An empty promise that something, anything, was waiting for her at the end of the long road?
Those questions were running through Speace's mind as she spent an evening in eastern Germany, sleeping in an attic apartment across the street from the Aachen Cathedral. Charlemagne had ordered the church's construction in the late 700s, and he'd been buried inside its stone walls for 1,200 years since. Hours after playing a show in town, Speace went to bed with the cathedral's bells ringing in her ears… then, two afternoons later, she sat down at an upright piano in nearby Solingen, Germany, and began composing the song that would become "Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne."
Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne finds Speace focusing on the other side of the so-called dream. The real side, filled with an ever-shifting balance of struggle and joy, and stripped free of fairytale dust. Produced by longtime collaborator Neilson Hubbard and recorded during the final weeks of Speace's pregnancy with her first son, Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne captures Amy Speace at her most nakedly honest, with sparsely-decorated songs that double down on her larger-than-life voice and detail-rich songwriting. It's an album about dreamers… and, in a way, about the trials and triumphs of an artist's journey — a journey that's no longer focused upon the destination, but upon the actual trip itself.
"You know that moment when the dreamer meets the dream, and it's a lie?" she sings in the title track, her voice sharing the spotlight with swooning strings and twinkling piano. "After years of climbing up, you see it’s just the same damned sky." That line might as well be Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne's mission statement, but don't mistake it for an announcement that Speace is throwing in the towel. On the contrary, she's more dedicated to the climb than ever before; she's just climbing for different reasons now.
These ten original songs, along with a reverent cover of Ben Glover's "Kindness," mix autobiography with fiction. "Grace of God" is Speace's sobriety story, delivered with gospel-sized gusto and co-written with Jon Vezner. Alcohol also plays a role in the nostalgic "Back in Abilene," which Speace delivers from the perspective of a man looking back on his desire to leave his small town — and, with it, his hard-drinking father. A handful of sharply-sketched characters populate the other tracks. A young boy retreats into his own world of make-believe during "Icicle King," desperate to find some sort of escape from his parents' fighting, while a young woman searches for comfort in "Ginger Ale and Lorna Doones," a stark, minor-key ballad that takes place hours after the narrator leaves an abortion clinic. Finally, there's the mighty "Standing Rock, Standing Here," a political protest song written during the early years of Donald Trump's presidency. Like Speace's career-launching hit from 2006, "The Weight of the World," "Standing Rock, Standing Here" examines political issues from a human perspective. It's a contemporary folk song in the classic mold, and Speace sings its melodies with a vibrato-laced voice that recalls Judy Collins and Joan Baez.
Coincidentally, it was Judy Collins who helped bring Speace's music to a wider audience more than a dozen years before The Ghost Of Charlemagne's release. Back then, Speace was still working in New York City as a classically-trained Shakespearean actress, playing low-key coffeehouse gigs on the side. A set at the South By Southwest Music Festival brought her music to the attention of Collins, who signed Speace to her label, Wildflower Records, and eventually recorded her own version of "The Weight of the World" several years later. Speace would release two albums for the Wildflower label — 2006's Songs for Bright Street and 2009's The Killer in Me — before moving to Nashville and striking up a partnership with Thirty Tigers, who released follow-up records like How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat. Already championed by NPR, The New York Times and other taste-making outlets for her solo work, she received further acclaim as a member of Applewood Road, a harmony-heavy trio featuring Emily Barker and Amber Rubarth. Released in 2016, Applewood Road's self-titled album became a critical success in the UK, earning a five-star review from The London Sunday Times. It also gave Speace a chance to breathe, recharge her batteries, and prepare for her most poignant solo album to date.
Years before Americana music received its own category at the Grammy Awards, Speace was one of the genre's earliest champions, mixing the best parts of American roots music — gospel, alt-country, folk, classic pop — into her own songs. The Ghost of Charlemagne follows in that diverse tradition, but it also shines its light on a new Amy Speace: a clear-eyed, reenergized songwriter who's done with chasing things that don't matter…but isn't anywhere close to being done with her art.
"I've gotten to the point where I realize there's nothing at the end of the rainbow, but I'm still curious about the ride up and down the colors," she explains. Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne is full of characters making the shift from that dream to reality. It's a letting go, a grieving, and a celebration all at once. “Those realizations all coincided with me getting pregnant, but I didn't write all of these songs for my son, and I didn't write them for a manager or a label, either. This is an album led by truth, by an honest approach, by a story about peeling back the curtain to find out there's nothing there and that’s good news. Maybe I wrote this record just for me."