Review – Ms Amy Birks – All That I Am & All That I Was by John Wenlock-Smith

Amy Birks, or Ms Amy Birks to give her her full name, is a young lady with a very bright future ahead of her.  Well that certainly seems to be the case here with this debut solo release ‘All That I Am & All That I Was’.

Amy was previously a member of the all-female trio the Beatrix Players whose mix of genres embraced folk, singer songwriter acoustica, prog and quasi classical baroque chamber pop.  Quite a heady and adventurous mix and an interesting one too.  I saw these play to a capacity audience as a support act for Big Big Train in Basingstoke where the crowd listened very intently to their delicate yet powerful pieces. Well that was three years ago, but this album is very much of the now, and as the Beatrix Players are no more, that chapter is now closed, with this album being the beginning of a whole new and exciting chapter for Amy.

This new album has been a couple of years in the making and encompasses several themes and various historical songs also feature.  These come from Amy’s rich love of history along with literature as shown in the opening number Jamaica Inn, based on and inspired by the Daphne De Maurier novel of the same name.  This song has a flow to it that is reminiscent of Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush but without the histrionic vocals that that song featured. Find the epic video here;

What I especially like about this is that it’s a very catchy song with a fine chorus and some strong, yet understated playing from all, with lovely guitar from Oliver Day and a memorable melody that runs throughout the song.

Unlike the Heart follows and this is another very delicate song with a strong supportive bass line from Nick Wollage and some fine cello from Caroline Lavelle.  In fact, the more you listen to this album the more you can hear within it the sparseness of the sound. This is especially true on the next song More, a very stark and raw song that talks of Amy’s divorce and the feelings around that difficult time.  Here the instrumentation is very powerful indeed, all adding to the air of despair that the lyrics evoke. Ultimately this is a song about one woman’s coming to terms with and surviving the trauma of divorce. This is another very powerful song.

Not Every Night is a statement of continuance about how things were, but not how they are now, or will ever be again. A gentle song that has depths of feeling to it.

With All That I Am is gain about divorce, in which Amy speaks of the unhappiness surrounding the situation and questions are asked about the third party involved in the relationship. That Amy can sing of these matters so openly is admirable, she has moved on from the hurt into pastures new. Again, there is hope however this piece is quite raw emotionally as Amy exorcises her own demons.

The next song Say Something is totally different, in that it deals with a time of abuse that Amy suffered at school and thereafter whilst modelling. A situation in which she was the recipient of unwarranted attention and improper touch. She sings of these times very eloquently, openly questioning why the individual behaved in that way. The music in this song is very emotional and almost sounds wistful, despite the horrendous acts that it portrays. It is a very brave song but one that needs to be heard and spoken about. Personally, I find it a highlight of the album.

We then move onto a brace of songs based on historical figures, initially Catherine Of Aragon (Henry VIII’s first wife.  He divorced her when she was unable to provide him with an heir and from whom he transferred his affections to Anne Boleyn.  

This song (Catherine) is a triumph as it deals with the life of Catherine, a woman of strength who still loved Henry after his affections shifted and she was cast aside.  This piece has a stately majesty and power to it, almost regal sounding and certainly delivered with respect and admiration even.

The Fault Of The Lady Anne is next. This is another moving piece, respectful and essentially sad dealing as it does with Queen Anne’s fall from grace. Her isolation from Henry and decent into an ill judged affair that resulted in her being taken to the Tower Of London and ultimately to her sad death at the executioners axe. This moving song is indeed very sad lyrically but is very well conceived, and if you’ll forgive the pun, well executed and delivered.

The Road to Gordes is about Amy’s experiences as a single woman travelling in Colombia (Spain) and how she would be noticed, but then often left unserved in restaurants and bars. This is an interesting song musically with some delicate guitar from Oliver Day, a lovely piano line from Amy and some fine interplay between the violin and the cello, as Amy finds her peace in the space of the situation and both accepts and enjoys the sensations it brings.

I Wish is a song that features the nimble fingers of Steve Hackett playing Spanish guitar to lyrics based on words from the Christina Georgina Rossetti’s poem I Wish I Were A Little Bird.  This one is a really wonderful track, with Steve really giving the song some power and making its tale of unrequited love come alive. It is another excellent song, there is a suitably elegant video that accompanies it that can be viewed here.

The final track is called Keeps You Guessing and features piano from Romain Thorel of Lazuli whose jazzy improvisations really give the song a swing and end this exceptional album on a very positive note.

This album will appeal to all who enjoy music by the likes of Tori Amos, Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell and show that Amy is a lady of real talent and imagination who can cross genres at will and for whom the future looks very bright indeed. I will say that this album needs time to sink into your mind and to appreciate the very subtle instrumentation that is at play here, but it is a real delight to hear and appreciate.

Released 3/4/2020

Order the album from The Merch Desk here:

https://themerchdesk.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=88_296

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