Amilia K. Spicer/Gurf Morlix
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Amilia k Spicer: It may be her haunting, husky voice that first grabs a listener, the way it glides over melodies like smoke, but it’s the songwriting that Spicer really wants you to hear. It fuses together the different places she calls home
Raised in rural Pennyslvania, currently residing in California, spending half the year in Austin, the topography covers languid farm landscapes, red dirt Americana, and an occasional turn down a dark alley with flickering neon.
Spicer has a thing for wide-open spaces and exotic places. Even her record label name, Free Range, reflects her vagabond spirit—which has carried her from the rolling green hills of her native Pennsylvania, to the hill country of central Texas, and even the mountain monasteries of Nepal. She lives in Los Angeles and Austin, but she might tell you she feels most rooted when she’s heading toward a distant horizon, guided by the sky.
Her label’s motto is “Don’t fence me in.” The songs on her new album, “Wow and Flutter,” capture the vastness of those horizons with a cinematic quality, somehow sweeping us into the panorama as we listen. It should surprise no one that she pursued a career in film before music became her muse.
When Spicer answered music’s call, she was first discovered at a Los Angeles club. That led to a rare main stage Kerrville Folk Festival debut, three Kennedy Center performances, and song placements in several high-profile TV productions (Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek), and more. Spicer’s first two releases, Like an Engine and Seamless were released to critical acclaim, with New Texas Magazine calling Spicer “A formidable talent.”
Spicer’s music has also earned comparisons to that of Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Daniel Lanois. During the writing process for “Wow and Flutter,” Spicer took time to work on several other projects. Among these, she has been lauded for her contributions to Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young and A Case for Case: A Peter Case Tribute with John Prine. She also appeared on the 2009 Safety Harbor Kids Holiday Collection, alongside Jackson Browne, Sheila E, and Paul Barrere. Spicer has enjoyed other collaborations as well, most notably appearing on albums by John Gorka and the final Rounder release from the late Bill Morrissey.
Spicer describes her folk-Americana style as red-dirt noir, evoking majestic vistas—and shadowy mysteries. Crafted on piano and more recently, guitar, her richly textured songs are sung in a honeyed alto that’s equal parts earthy and airy. Her sound is like glass: spun from sand and fire into something smooth and clear, and sometimes beautifully etched—with acid.
The album’s title, a reference to pitch changes caused by imperfections in analog audio, was chosen in part because the sounds so sensual.
“Wow and flutter reminds me of wax and wane, ebb and flow,” Spicer says. “Or something opening and closing, like a heart.” Moon, tide and heart fluctuations—and other natural-world phenomena—are part of Wow and Flutter’s essence.
Its songs carry titles such as “Lightning,” “Windchill” and “Wild Horses”; they mention hurricanes, open flames and stones polished in the rain. A hoot owl calls at the start of “Shotgun,” which turns Native American-and African-influenced vocal undulations and delicate slide guitar into a truly hypnotic reverie. There’s an intimate sensuality, too, but it’s as if she’s dancing behind a veil, letting her music reveal what it may. However, in “Fill Me Up,” the western-tinged first track, when she sings the line, Shenandoah’s got secrets so deep, we can infer she’s talking about more than a mountain. In the soaring “What I’m Saying,” she declares her intent to find her purpose and place in the world. “I want to be a force to be reckoned with,” Spicer asserts. “I want to cause a beautiful commotion.”
Praise for “Wow and Flutter.”
“Amilia K Spicer is going places fast, and if you want a glimpse into what the future of country music is going to sound like (if it has any hopes of remaining relevant to pop culture), I would recommend giving “Harlan” from her new album,“Wow and Flutter”, a spin and taking in its spellbinding video as well. Art is purely subjective, and while it is only my opinion that Spicer is going to be the next member of the Nashville royal family, it certainly helps my argument that I’m not the only critic saying as much.”
– No Depression
Gurf Morlix: Visiting planet Gurf has always been an enlightening experience. After all, this Gurf Morlix fellow – Buffalo born, Texas bred – has provided us with countless indelible musical moments in the last 40-plus years: his exemplary guitar and production work with Lucinda Williams; his instrumental accompaniment to artists ranging from Blaze Foley to Warren Zevon; his production of watermark albums for artists such as Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen and Mary Gauthier – and, since 2000, a series of eight solo records that have a singular worldview and can be both harrowing and heartening, often at the same time.
Now, prepare yourself for “The Soul And The Heal”. Gurf Morlix’s ninth album is another chapter in a songbook that pithily relates the human condition. But though Morlix’s signatures are still present on this masterstroke – lyrics that don’t waste a syllable, instrumentation without a spare note – there is also a hopefulness and vulnerability not always readily evident on his recent releases. The fact that “The Soul And The Heal” is pivotal for Gurf is immediately clear from the striking front cover image of a heart-shaped cherry with its pit exposed, and from the stark title that he says speaks to “the healing of the soul from all the damage we inflict on ourselves.”
It would be too easy to attribute Gurf’s evolution to the fact that in February 2016 he suffered a heart attack while dead stopped in the fast lane, in a traffic jam, on his way to a gig. In fact these new songs were all written before this episode, from which he has fully recovered. But there’s no doubt the emotions stirred by the unexpected December 2014 passing of Gurf’s musical mate, rock keyboard legend Ian McLagan, contributed to the career pinnacle that “The Soul And The Heal” is for Morlix.
The album was recorded at his Rootball home studio. Morlix comes by his musical minimalism naturally: “It’s the way my brain is wired. I like to hear everything clearly.” It’s a solitary sound, different from the sonics he brought to his outside productions – but, as always, it’s anchored by Morlix’s sinewy, expressive guitar. The other constant is drummer Rick Richards – who shares Morlix’s straightforward aesthetic (and whose rhythms Gurf echoes with two foot drums during his almost 100 solo gigs a year).
This batch of songs yields the expected Morlix darkness and humor, but woven between are numbers imbued with a warm light. The call to positive action on “Move Someone,” the mindfulness of “Right Now” and the sensitive finale “The Best We Can” balance this focused collection, an album that manages to run the gamut of emotions without being cloying or obvious.
With “The Soul And The Heal” Morlix continues to create his own singular musical universe, but the yin and yang of his outlook has never been as in sync as it is now, making it even more inviting to join him on Planet Gurf.
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