When someone with a sweet, almost divine, voice sings lyrics which fairly tug at the heartstrings, but does so because the topic being sung about is based on a true situation, and not a pleasant one either, the emotions go into overdrive. Amy Birks was previously one third of the Beatrix Players, who won the ‘Limelight’ award from Prog magazine in 2017 for their album Magnified. Since the Players folded she’s worked as a solo artist; All That I Am … is her first release, released on April 3rd, with a showcase launch gig two days later, which has now had to be deferred. The album was written, produced and arranged by Amy, with musical assistance from ex- Beatrix Player Jess Kennedy, and features contributions from luminaries such as Steve Hackett (flamenco guitar), John Hackett (flute) and Caroline Lavelle (Cello) who, along with several others, have all added their special something to what is an exceptionally fine piece of work, with delicately strong, sensitive tunes and haunting, captivating melodies, all accompanied by a rich, sensuous and melodious voice capable of stirring the soul. If you want to know why Ms Amy Birks won Prog’s top female singer award in 2018, just listen to this album.
A number of the eleven songs on the record are rooted in her interest in historical matters, and the listener is given character-led drama, such as the Cornish themed opener, Jamaica Inn, and also songs reflecting her interest in strong historic women, such as Anne Boleyn (All The Fault OfTthe Lady Ann) and Catherine of Aragon (Catherine). But there are also songs about unpleasant situations she’s experienced in her life. Songs like Say Something, With All That I Am and Not Every Night, with very powerful lyrics alongside the images they evoke, cannot just be conjured out of the writer’s imagination. Say Something tells of a situation which, sadly, too many women have experienced and felt powerless afterwards (‘it was hard for me to say something’) but, with the prominence of #Me Too, hopefully this situation will no longer be so prevalent. Similarly, With All That I Am is a track written in the aftermath of a recent divorce (‘so I bid you farewell, but please let me leave in peace’) which couldn’t be described as easy.
These are pieces of work, in some cases, emanating from the very soul of an artist who’s experienced a few nasty situations in previous relationships, but there’s an uplifting and positive spirit running through the album, given by someone who’s come to realise her inner strength and who has now reached the stage in her life where she has the psychological and emotional resources to confront the issues raised (emotional abuse, relationship breakdowns…) and, as an artist, exorcise them through her work.
The album title says it all. All that Ms Amy Birks now is, is a much stronger woman who’s arrived at a far better place, and who’s poured her life experiences into making All That I Am… an extremely haunting but powerfully delightful and evocative album.