Artist: Amilia K Spicer
Album: Wow and Flutter
Label: Free Range
Release Date: 4.28.2017
Spicer is a multi-instrumentalist and a crafty singer-songwriter who has spent over a decade as a film director. After two albums released in 2000 and 2003, Spicer returns with a terrific collection of songs and even more interesting instrumentation. Her rather nomadic life has carried her from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles to Austin and to rather uncommon places too. As a film director, Spicer also found time to compose and had some songs placed in high profile TV shows (Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek) and some rather obscure indie films. She’s had three Kennedy Center appearances, produced tracks for other projects and had life altering journeys to Southeast Asia in 2012 and 2014, with a friend who was funding a documentary about Nepal’s civil war. As she visited monasteries, she says, “I was searching for new sounds and new sanctuary.” Those searches, along with the dissolving of a relationship, were the impetus for the album.
Rarely will you find a more star- studded collection of musicians on an album. They include Stones’ bassist Daryl Johnson, keyboardist Rami Jaffee (Wallflowers/Foo Fighters), Mike Finnigan (Bonnie Raitt/Taj Mahal), pedal steel player Eric Heywood (Son Volt), guitarists Tony Gilkyson and Gurf Morlix, as well as and violinist Petra Haden and singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave. Malcolm Burn mixed the album while multi-instrumentalist Steve McCormick produced.
Despite the array of talent, it’s Spicer’s adventurous musical spirit and curiosity that sets this album apart. No two songs have either the same players or same instruments. Spicer is primarily a pianist and actually picked up a guitar for the first time while making this record. She went on to play banjo, lap steel and an array of guitars as well as the glock and another keyboard she calls C3. She says, “Every time I picked up a new instrument, I wrote a song. It was the best sandbox ever.” She comments on the rather curious album title, an audio term regarding pitch and speed variations, this way. “The phrase is also very sensual to me, like wax and wane, ebb and flow, the closing and the opening of the heart.”
Even her song titles and lyrics reflect her cinematic background. We have “Lightning,” “Windchill,” and “Wild Horses.” There are mentions of hurricanes, open flames and stones polished in the rain. The sound of a hoot owl imbues “Shotgun” along with Native-American and African-influenced vocal influences. Spicer has a primarily folk rock/Americana approach but her sense of mystery, use of spaces, vocal layering, and diverse use of instruments make her sound unique. My only quibble is that her voice could be a slightly more prominent in the mix. Nonetheless, this is an album you’ll often return to because the variety of sounds will evoke different images and emotions. It will be interesting to hear these songs live where Spicerwill likely be mostly playing piano, with far less accompaniment. You can see her on tour with John Gorka beginning in June.