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Amy Speace turns downers into upbeat show

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., July 7, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

It would have been easy to understand if Amy Speace was not the most upbeat of performers. After all, her just released CD, "The Killer In Me," was written and recorded in the wake of her divorce. The break-up didn't appear to be a pretty one with lines like "The liar you hide has found the thief in me/Held up the truth with a loaded gun."

But for all the turmoil regarding her ended marriage, Speace, at least, has done what every good songwriter ought to do - she came out of it with songs of substance. At the same time, the New Jersey native did not wallow in sorry and pity for her 80 minutes on stage either.

Speace mixed a country vibe with folk roots with some songs pretty much splitting the difference and coming off as rootsy - not quite country, but not exactly folk either. Her vocals were forceful or tender when needed, making it all the more interesting in a lot of songs with water references.

Speace leavened the weight of the lyrics with her often humorous stage patter. "Yeah, that's a love song," she joked about The Killer in Me. "My therapist is proud of me. She said it's the first co-dependent love song she's heard." (On the CD, Speace sings the song with Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople fame).

Before playing Weight of the World, Speace related a funny story about coming down during the day from a gig the previous night in Portland, Maine. While stopped at a gas station, she saw a man walking with a huge cross and decided to encounter him, finding out he was walking to Mexico. Acknowledging the guy was a bit off, Speace then turned in a good reading of the song, which her label owner Judy Collins is recording for her next CD.

The humor came through very loud and clear on the crowd sing-along Double Wide Trailer, a song from her 2006 disc, which probably would not go down very well in Southern, blue collar communities. It sure went down easy though and was funny up north.

The guitar work of her producer James Mastro (he's best known for being a member of The Bongos and The Health and Happiness Show) gave a lot of texture and bite to the music live, while also contributing backing vocals.

Speace may not have drawn a lot of folks - about 40, although it was a Monday night - but she deserves credit for making depressing songs sound almost uplifting.

Virginian Luke Brindle opened with a good set of straight-ahead folk. The highlight, though, was a deft Turkish-flavored instrumental, which drew his biggest hand. Brindle was not the most dynamic performer - he may have been a bit discombobulated overall since he arrived late due to bad traffic and had a very late sound check.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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