Caroline Spence – Spades and Roses
Self Released – 3 November 2017 (UK)
One of Caroline Spence’s t-shirts sports the legend Sad Songs Happy Person. I can’t vouch for her personal emotional state of mind, but the songs on this, her second album, certainly fit the bill.
Vocally likened to Emmylou Harris’s more tremulous moments, the Virginian-born singer-songwriter made quite an impact in her new home of Nashville with the release of her 2015 debut, and, with its mingling of folk and country, this firmly consolidates her position among the rising stars on the Americana scene.
Described as an album about “dissatisfaction and hunger“, it opens with the first number she recorded, Heart of Somebody, a liltingly melancholic song about wanting do and be better than you are, featuring, as it does throughout, Kris Donegan on electric guitar and producer Neilson Hubbard on drums with its lines about about “empty glasses and empty promises filling up my nights.”
It gets musically throatier with the slow-paced autobiographical Hotel Amarillo, the life on the road story of a night spent in some anonymous Texas hotel with a bottle of wine, but that loneliness is offset by the folksy All The Beds I’ve Made as, with co-writer Stephanie Lambring on harmony, she sings about how her new lover makes up for all the regrets of past heartaches, the simple acoustic guitar joined towards the end by David Henry’s cello.
A song about trying to talk to a friend about the choices they make and coming across like a broken record, the rhythmically driving You Don’t Look So Good (Cocaine) and its naggingly familiar melody line is another that sees Donegan turn up the Pettyesque guitar muscle before she returns to a more personal note with the Springsteen-parched Southern Accident. A particular highlight, it pulls things back down for a gradually building emotionally pointed and highly personal song drawn from coming from a broken marriage and the walls she built around her as she sings “I’m a handful, but I’m a hand you can hold.” It’s also thematically connected to the following track, the slow waltzing warble of Slow Dancer about trying to break down those walls and give yourself to someone else.
Switching subjects, bolstered by Danny Mitchell on keys, the strummed Softball uses sporting imagery to address gender inequality in “the boys club”, whether on the field or in the workplace. It’s back to the yearning heart for the only non-original, the wistful To Go Down, a song by her friend Pete Lindberg, and, by way of a musical change of pace and an almost upbeat lyric, the melodically spry Wishing Well, the only track to feature male harmonies and with what she refers to as Travelling Wilburys styled riffs.
It closes with a touch of Townes Van Zandt on the acceptance of I Can’t Complain, the singer looking back on a life that, for all bumps and bruises, was ultimately more glass half full than empty and the thematic companion final track, the Daniel Mitchell co-penned, strings-arranged piano ballad Goodbye Bygones, an paradoxically optimistic end of relationship song about recognising things for what they are and that “you cannot call a spade a rose.”
The press notes talk about the power of songs to help find peace, clarity and hope amidst the emotional wreckage of our everyday lives. Caroline Spence is a testament to that.
Caroline Spence UK Tour Dates 2018
FEB 20 TUE – The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
FEB 21 WED – Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
FEB 24 SAT – ESQUIRES, Bedford
FEB 25 SUN – Kingskerswell Parish Church, Newton Abbot
FEB 27 TUE – Kingsmead House, High Wycombe
MAR 1 THU – Tiny Rebel, Cardiff, Wales
MAR 2 FRI – The Tea Tray, Portsmouth
MAR 8 THU – The Admiral & The Hold, Glasgow
MAR 10 SAT – Gordon Arms Ents Shed, Bedford