Review – Ms Amy Birks – In Our Souls

Ms Amy Birks returns with ‘In Our Souls’, the follow up to her debut solo album ‘All That I Am & All That I Was’.

‘In Our Souls’ represents Amy’s second time around as a producer and mixing engineer. She recalls the process as being “a time of solitude, of many a late night, exploring ideas and losing myself in the books and poetry of the Bronte’s and my own personal journey over the past few years, developing my ears, skills and confidence as a composer. My first record, ‘All That I Am & All That I Was’, was very much about deeply personal experiences but with this album I wanted to extract more strength and feeling from the musical palate and have more fun with it, which has enabled me to step back a little from the lyrics and put more faith in my ability to write not only songs but pieces of music.”

Amy, lead singer and lyricist of Beatrix Players, is joined on the album by Helena Dove and Tom Manning , two co-writers from the original line-up of that award-winning band. Manning also composed and played all the guitar parts on the album. Amy is once again accompanied by flautist John Hackett while introducing violinist Frank Van Essen and cellist Clare O’Connell to what is a virtuosic line-up.

For ‘In Our Souls’, out of the twelve tracks on the album, Birks, a long-standing fan of the Bronte sisters, sets the words of three Bronte poems to music. Birks furthered her knowledge of the sisters and their personal musical leanings through several trips to Haworth and the Bronte’s parsonage prior to selecting poems that would provide inspiration for the album.

Ms Amy Birks takes the beautiful sound that she developed on her first album, that, in itself, an extension of the Beatrix Players’ amazing combination of chamber orchestra and popular music, and elevates it to an even higher level of brilliance. The whole album is just under fifty minutes of sheer musical wonderment where Amy’s stunning vocals blend perfectly with the consummate musicianship of her amazing group of players.

There are no highlights really but only because every song is an exquisitely crafted gem of ethereal grace and wonder. The opening, title track, In Our Souls, commandeers the words of Charlotte Bronte’s poem, ‘Evening Solace’ and creates a song that just oozes sublime calm, Hold On is a song about a transformation, at soul level, which is what Amy thinks nature can do for a person, if they are open to it and has more urgency engendered by the vocal and a superbly improvised violin from Frank van Essen. There’s a powerful dynamism to Elsa, a song Amy wrote when at university about a woman who is aware of her desires and her attraction and of the wife she knows exists but cares little for, the music creating an aura of drama and tension.

Brothers is without-doubt the most personal track on the album, Amy explains; “I have two estranged brothers and those tumultuous relationships have been the subject, or at least the undercurrent of many a song. For whatever reason, we have never seen eye to eye, hence the opening words of ‘I don’t understand why. Do you? Do you know why?’ and the build-up of aggression through the instrumentation. This, I suppose, is my therapy.” It makes for truly thought provoking piece of music, full of tension and emotion. There’s a delicate, if melancholic, refinement to The One That Got Away, a sad sort of love song about a relationship that almost was something more than friendship but was more of an awakening and a red flag. Wistful and rueful, its artistry belies the plaintive undertone that the track’s subject engenders. A Death Scene takes the words from the wonderful Emily Bronte poem with the same name to create a contemplative and slightly dark piece of music with a thoughtful edge and features some spellbinding guitar playing from Tom Manning and the remarkable flute of John Hackett.

The Woman In White, a song where Amy looks back at herself as a young bride and not really recognising who that person was anymore, is possibly the darkest track on the album from a lyrical point of view and this lends a brooding quality to the piece. With the layers of driving strings and guitar, this is Amy enjoying herself. It’s a highly visual piece that takes her back to an earlier time. The third Bronte poem on the album, The Dream, is from the greatly underappreciated (in Amy’s opinion) Anne Bronte and has a lighter, more frivolous and sweeter feel though, in keeping with the woman who wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the mid-section has a power and authority all of its own. Goodnight For Now is another song that Amy wrote while at university. A gentle, graceful, acoustic piece that, once again, showcases Amy’s amazing voice, it’s about a woman gently letting down a man for she is out of bounds and shows that Amy has always had her head in the romance of Austin and the Bronte’s.

There’s a heart wrenching feel to the wonderfully dramatic Living In Sin, a song about transformation and having the strength to be who you really are. The sombre tone of the music and Amy’s downplayed vocal give real sentiment and fervour to the track. Amy wrote Cannot Contain about greed and how we can all get sucked in by wealth and ‘success’ if we’re not paying attention. It is quite a curt track with an edgy tension underpinning the whole song and the almost irascible tone to Amy’s vocal brooks no argument! The album comes to a rather satisfying close with the wondrous, almost elemental, joy of an instrumental version of the title track.

Well, what can I say, Amy is a rather prodigiously talented songwriter with a quite remarkable voice and when that is put together with musicianship of such stellar talent as is shown here, you are well on the way to musical perfection. ‘In Our Souls’ is a collection of wonderful songs that will delight, enchant and enrapture musical connoisseurs for a long time to come, it truly is that good!

Released 8th April, 2022.

Order the CD from bandcamp here:

In Our Souls | Ms Amy Birks (bandcamp.com)

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