Originally posted on nytimes.com by VAL HALLER.
Each week, Val Haller, a music-obsessed baby boomer and the founder of the Web site Valslist.com, matches tracks from her generation to those of her 20-something sons’ generation.
For those who argue that poetry is a dying genre, I suggest listening to this week’s featured singer and songwriter, Amy Speace. The match was an easy call, since Judy Collins has often spoken about how much she loves Ms. Speace’s work, has signed the younger singer to Wildflower Records, Ms. Collins’s record label, and covered one of Ms. Speace’s original songs, “Weight of the World.”
This iconic singer, now 73, filled the airwaves of the 1960s and ’70s with her folk songs and clear, airy soprano. Ms. Collins’s first hit single was in 1967, “From Both Sides Now” (written by a relative unknown at the time, Joni Mitchell), and she is still recording and performing. I’m going to see her with Don McLean (Think, “Bye, bye Miss American Pie”) on June 6 when she performs at Ravinia in Highland Park, Ill. Raised in Seattle and Denver, Ms. Collins was the oldest of five children, studied classical piano and performed at church productions as a girl. But in her teens, she fell in love with folk music. She credits her father, a radio broadcaster who was blind, for influencing her taste in music, having exposed her to traditional songs like “Danny Boy.” Besides the folk songs and her own compositions, she memorably recorded songs from of a wide range of composers, including Pete Seeger’s “Turn Turn Turn”; Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Writing about her autobiography “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music,” The New York Times’s Stephen Holden noted, “Her voice, songwriting and prose all belong to the same stream whose distinctive quality is a diamondlike clarity.”
Before entering the music business Ms. Speace was an actor/director/playwright touring with the National Shakespeare Company. Until recently, she kept her songwriting and Shakespeare-ing separate. But her newest album, “How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat,” released this week, includes a Shakespearean quote in every song. Desdemona, Caesar, Juliet and Henry V all show up in the album’s liner notes. She was born in Baltimore, graduated from Amherst College and worked as an actress in New York. After a painful romantic split, she bought a cheap guitar and moved to Nashville. Songwriting became her therapy, she said. Ms. Speace has released four albums, starting in 2002 with “Fable,” then “Songs for Bright Street,” “The Killer in Me” and “Land Like a Bird.” All were well reviewed. An NPR critic commented, “Her velvety achey voice recalls an early Lucinda Williams.” Judy Collins describes the song “Weight of the World” as “one of the best political folk songs I’ve ever heard.” And in The Tennessean, Peter Cooper writes, “What Speace says — what she sings — she tries to say with a confluence of poetry and honesty, of emotional specificity.” He goes on to say that her ballad from the new album, “The Sea & the Shore” written with Robbie Hecht and performed with Grammy-nominated John Fullbright, is “a song about attraction, about patience and timing, about want and need and consequence. And it ends in a breakup.”
Amy Speace performs in New York tonight at Joe’s Pub. Here is a sample of her poetry (printed with permission), followed by two lovely duets with these women who marry words and music so well.
Said the Sea to the Shore when the evening tide came in,
“I am here to tell you tales of where I’ve been
Into shells I’ve whispered my love songs in secret rhyme
And left them at your door for you to find…
I’ve longed for you for so long,” said the Sea to the Shore.
Said the Shore to the Sea, “You’ve said all these things before
And I tell you I can’t hear them anymore”…
So the Sea took one last look and turned away
And the Shore was more than strong enough to stay
And castles melted back into the sand
Driftwood drifted up onto the land
Rocks rose up proud in shiny skin
And shells began their gossiping again.