For her first solo recording, Burn & Glow, singer/songwriter Amy Goddard has done most of the heavy lifting herself: writing, arranging, singing, playing; she had a hand in the mixing and is credited as the sleeve designer as well as the album’s producer. Thankfully, she’s managed to retain a degree of objectivity throughout all this and the result is a record which sits comfortably amongst its peers with enough of its maker’s individuality on show to help it stand out from the crowd.
The record opens with the minimalistic I Will See which, in her sleeve notes, Amy says is a song about learning to be happy in your own skin. Amy’s voice is clear and confident and her overdubbed harmonies work well. The song structure makes good use of key changes and her fingerstyle playing is smooth and flowing.
The lyric of Don’t Try, featuring Greg Mudd on double bass, attempts the difficult task of supporting somebody who is living with the invisible illness of depression and does so with tact and empathy. The proceeds from this song are being donated to Sane (www.sane.org.uk) and its Black Dog Tribe project. Special credit must go to Amy for showing an understanding of the social model of disability with the line “don’t try to fix me”: if more people understood that society needs to be more accommodating of disabled people and less inclined to weigh in with inappropriate interventions, then the world would be a much better place for the one in four people who experience mental health problems each year.
The uptempo, country-tinged Morning Train lifts the mood somewhat with what Amy calls a ‘train song’, about her numerous trips between her hometown of Cardiff and Portsmouth to visit her S.O. (Matt), who also contributes backing vocals along with Viv Taverner and DiElle. In fact, this is quite an ensemble performance as it also features Rob Crocker on guitar and mandolin and James Crocker on guitar and percussion.
It paves the way nicely for a pair of songs which foreground Amy’s love of the music of the sadly deceased American singer/songwriter John Stewart. Lonesome Picker is Amy’s tribute to him and handles the subject with sensitivity without ever becoming maudlin. Rob Crocker’s mandolin sits well in the arrangement and the brief unaccompanied harmonies in the coda are a particular highlight. Jasmine, which was written by John Stewart for what would prove to be his last studio album, allows Amy to show off her impressive vocal range while Rob Crocker’s guitar and bass overdubs add some nice additional timbres to the song.
The lyric of Suzie looks at the consequences of serious bullying on people’s lives and health. It’s another difficult subject and again Amy is to be credited for tackling it in a sensitive and well-considered way. DiElle’s spectral harmonies add to the sense of foreboding and some well-placed percussion enhances the chilly atmosphere of the arrangement.
Taking the Edge Off the Day deals with the problem of relying on alcohol to get through the day and the slow, insidious slide into dependency that can arise. Amy’s rhythmic playing creates a sense of urgency which reflects the agitation that needing ‘just the one’ drink brings and makes a compelling backdrop for the lyric.
There are two versions of Make You Whole on the album; lyrically it contains an interesting idea that, as Amy says, ‘the guitar likes to be played as much as I like to play it’. For many people, the healing power of music is hugely important so it’s good to see Amy giving the topic some consideration. The first version here is the solo version, again with backing vocals by DiElle, while the second version is a bonus track which closes the album and features the Igloo Choir and double bass by Greg Mudd. To my ears these are different mixes of the same track; that said, the emotional resonance of a choir is hard to resist and if I had to pick just one version, it would be the latter. That’s not to say the solo take doesn’t have merit – I’m guessing it’s closer to how the song sounds live on stage – just that, for home listening, I prefer the full arrangement.
From the relationship a musician has with her instrument to the relationships we have with each other, Friends We’ll Always Be is, as you might expect, a song about the ability of a good friendship to cut across boundaries, although some listeners may be slightly puzzled by the introduction of a metaphorical talking owl in the lyric. After the gritty realism of some of the preceding lyrics this might risk seeming a little twee, nevertheless it fits in with the overall ambience of the album and does provide a gently optimistic interlude. Just Be You continues the upbeat feel with a sunny folk-rocker about just kicking back and enjoying life and I’m certainly not going to argue with such an admirable aim!
The sleeve notes for Lullabies credit the music as being by Brahms and Schubert and Amy has cleverly managed to weave two pre-existing melodies together to create a very soothing piece built around a gentle fingerstyle guitar over which her multitracked harmonies float serenely. It’s followed by another solo piece, Web of Lies, with a radically different subject. Written about the pain and confusion of deliberate deceit, it’s an uneasy listen whose accusatory tone is accentuated by the anguish which permeates the chorus.
Setting aside the bonus alternate version of Make You Whole, the album draws to a close with One More Song, about the joy of seeing one’s favourite band play live – and, anyway, who wants to go home?!
All in all, Burn & Glow is a great introduction to the repertoire of Amy Goddard and the range of material she covers suggests that she has the potential to become that rarest of singer/songwriters, one who isn’t afraid to write about contemporary social justice concerns along with more personal matters. It’s something that too many musicians seem unwilling to engage with these days, so it’s heartening to find someone who’s prepared to pick up the threads of the tradition of music with a political edge; someone who does, as they say, give a damn.
Review by: Helen Gregory
I Will See