It always saddens me when a band ends their time with us, but it also makes me happy when a band lives on in some form. Ms Amy Birks rose from the ashes of the Beatrix Players to debut her solo album “All That I Am & All That I Was” on April 3rd. Suffice it to say, this album has the tones and melodies I hoped to hear, plus even more.
Back in 2017, I reviewed the debut from the Beatrix Players. The trio had released a folksy progressive pop album that was, in my eyes, pure brilliance. I had become concerned for them, though, because I hadn’t heard much from them in some time. Amy was the lead singer of that project, and she has taken it upon herself to take up the reins, thank God. Amy has been making a name for herself in the prog community, even winning “Best Female Vocalist” at the 2018 Prog Awards. She handles most of the instrumentation and production on this album, but you will hear guest spots from Steve Hackett, John Hackett, and Caroline Lavelle.
This album has two distinct drives to it. On one hand, this is a progressive pop album. It is comparable in some ways to the Beatrix Players debut, but it has less of a focus on folk music. This is eccentric, lush, and melodic pop music, through and through, and you will hear gorgeous background orchestrations and acoustics. Many of the songs have strong vocal hooks to them, too, so they will certainly have you singing along with them.
On the other hand, this album is an intensely personal message from Amy. Some of these songs deal with immensely painful subjects, especially from the perspective of a woman. The lyrics are incredibly well-written, and also heart-breaking, to say the least. Amy handles them with grace and subtlety, but also with ferocity and passion. She comes across as one woman taking her stand to speak out against injustice, manipulation, and violation. I really appreciate the words she has written here. This is a feminist album through and through, and in all the best ways possible.
So, what we have here is an album of perfect balance and quiet turmoil. The music and lyrics both show restraint and passion simultaneously. The orchestrations and melodies are vivid, yet flicker in the back of your mind rather than forcing their way to the forefront. The album, then, comes across as serene and understated, but the power and fierceness of it all will grow on you with each listen. Again and again, the music feels like the flushed sky of a waning summer day, bathed in color and splendor, but also feeling hushed and introspective.
“All That I Am & All That I Was” has several highlight tracks. The singles are “Jamaica Inn” and “I Wish”. The former is perhaps the quintessential song of the album, feeling comfortable as the opener, and instantly catchy. The latter comes near the end of the album, and feels a bit folksier than the rest of the album. It dances and flutters satisfyingly. I love both of these songs, and “Jamaica Inn” specifically is constantly stuck in my head.
Those singles are not my favorites on the album, though. “More” is definitely a favorite with its evocative, subtle orchestrations and gentle atmosphere. It rises slowly into a tender array of violins and flutes. If you are not careful, you might miss the brilliance of this track. “With All That I Am” is a desperate stand for the heart in the midst of deceit and betrayal. My goodness, the atmosphere is emotional, and the chorus bids you to sing along in support of her feelings.
My favorite track, however, is “Say Something”. This is a difficult song, and I’m sure it will be hard for Amy to perform live. This song quivers fervently about the rape of a young woman, and the robbery of her precious self. It stands out against victim blaming, statutory manipulation, and the general way we men have treated women for all of history. It is one of those songs that will give great pause to whatever you are doing, and it will immerse you in heartache and regret. It is truly a tender and necessary track.
“All That I Am & All That I Was” is an elegant album performed with true grace and skill by Amy. Her “Ms Amy Birks” persona really fits the style, but the music is far more complex than you may expect or even hear on your first listen. This album is personal and deep, and I know I will keep mining its depths for some time.
Find Ms Amy Birks online: