“Been running my whole life trying to get to the other side
And I dream of the Serengeti
Chased by lions while the ravens fly”
As the lyric from her song “Shotgun” implies, singer-songwriter Amilia K Spicer has a thing for wide-open spaces and mystical places. Even her record label name, Free Range Records, reflects her vagabond spirit—which has carried her from the green hills of her native Pennsylvania, through the hill country of central Texas, to the mountain monasteries of Tibet. Based in Los Angeles and Austin, she might tell you she feels most rooted when she’s heading toward a distant horizon.
The songs on Spicer’s 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. The dichotomy of shadow and light, grit and wonder, are in the sonics, rather than on the screen.
“One of the best albums, any genre, in the last decade”- Popdose
Wow and Flutter represents a metamorphosis, shedding a few skins in the making, like Spicer herself, until it emerged as a 12 song collection. During its production, Spicer – a piano player- picked up a guitar for the first time. Other stringed instruments followed, each one inspiring her writing. “Every time I picked up a new instrument, I wrote a song. It was the best sandbox ever.” It also was a mixed blessing, Spicer confides with a grin, because each newly minted song clamored to be added to the record. Her album title refers to an audio term regarding pitch and speed variations.
Vintage analog appeals to Spicer, who adds: “The phrase is also very sensual to me, like wax and wane, ebb and flow, the closing and opening othe heart”.
Moon, tide, 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. The 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.
Spicer describes her Americana/folk rock style as red-dirt noir, evoking majestic vistas—and shadowy mysteries . On the lead off Appalachian-tinged track, “Fill Me Up”, when she sings, Shenandoah’s got secrets so deep, we can infer she’s talking about more than a mountain.
Called “Fearless” by the San Antonio Express- News, Spicer drew attention the first time she played an LA club on a whim. Ears perked, and she was on her way-—to a rare Mainstage Kerrville Folk Festival debut, three Kennedy Center performances, song placements in several high-profile TV shows (Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek), and quirky indie films. But Spicer initially regarded music as something she could walk away from any time—until a potential record deal fell through. As she envisioned the future slipping from her grasp, she had a startling realization. “I finally figured out,” she says, “this is not what I do. This is who I am.’” With that faith came a new fierceness to her work.
During the making of Wow and Flutter, her wanderlust meant there were detours, including producing tracks for other projects. Among these, lauded contributions to compilations tributing
Neil Young (alongside Kristen Hersh, Tanya Donnelly), and Peter Case (with John Prine,,Hayes Carll).
She also appeared on the Safety Harbor Kids Holiday Collection, (Billy Idol, Jackson Browne). A sought after harmony singer and arranger, Spicer’s featured on albums by John Gorka and the final Rounder release from the late Bill Morrissey.
Contributors to Wow and Flutter include Stones/Dylan bassist Daryl Johnson, Wallflowers/Foo Fighters keyboardist Rami Jaffee, Bonnie Raitt/Taj Mahal keyboardist Mike Finnigan, pedal steel player Eric Heywood (Son Volt), guitarists Tony Gilkyson (X, Lone Justice), Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams). Spicer produced; multi-instrumentalist Steve McCormick co-produced and engineered.
Spicer enlisted Malcolm Burn to mix: “Malcolm has worked on so many of my favorite records of all time. I was honored he wanted to be involved.” Poetic too:, because enigmatic nature aside, Spicer has earned comparisons to Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Neko Case, Daniel Lanois.
A spectral beauty permeates the understated “Harlan,” which smolders with a slow-burn intensity as Spicer sings, Whiskey runs thru me, like Mississippi mud /Just leaves you thirsty, can’t water down your blood. The key word there is “thirsty,” which hints at the restlessness propelling every explorer toward the unknown.
Indeed, Spicer made life-changing excursions to Southeast Asia in 2012 and 2014, accompanying a philanthropist friend who was funding a documentary about Nepal’s civil war. At the time, she was struggling to rekindle enthusiasm for her own project. As she visited monasteries, she recalls, “I was searching for new sounds, and new sanctuary”. She was also trying to lose something: the bonds of a dying romance. Spicer addresses those frustrations in various songs, including “Shake It Off”—which, she’d like to note, was written and recorded before Taylor Swift’s hit. Its sinuous, syncopated groove is enhanced by Daryl Johnson’s funky counterpoint vocal. “I’d love to have ‘Shake It Off’ used as a walk-out theme for an MMA fight,” says Spicer, a fan—not surprisingly, given her feisty streak.
This, of course, emanates from the same artist who whispers, “Let me be your lightning” with an unabashed sensuality.
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.“ With the slow, majestic gospel of the final track, “Shine,” she affirms that she’s found that force—whether the magic comes from the stars, the moon, the sun … or within.