Amy Black is a Boston-based singer/songwriter with storytelling and Southern tradition in her blood. In record time, she’s become one of the most sought after acts in the East, sharing stages with Chris Isaak, The Courtyard Hounds, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell and headlining at some of the region’s best venues.
Amy grew up in Missouri and Alabama and at 15, moved to Massachusetts. Her dad was a minister and the family moved around a lot when she was a kid, but one constant was her two sets of grandparents who lived in the same two houses in Alabama’s Muscle Shoals area throughout her childhood. ”Whenever I was there, I felt the true comfort of home.”
Amy grew up singing hymns from the pews in church, but it wasn’t until her family moved to Alabama from Missouri, that she got her first dose of real southern gospel. “The church we attended had an acapella group that was predominantly black. I got a copy of their cassette, and listened to it over and over.” She began to imitate the vocals of the woman who sang lead on “Near the Cross.” “That was when I learned the difference between singing hymns and singing gospel. Definitely not the same!”
Amy was influenced by many artists, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Aretha Franklin, and rocker Pat Benatar, but it was Bonnie Raitt who made the greatest impression. “It wasn’t until I heard Bonnie for the first time that I felt like I’d heard the music that I’d been waiting for. I was captivated the night I heard her sing ‘Thing Called Love’ live at the Grammys, and immediately went out and bought the album ‘Nick of Time.’ From that point forward, she was my number one influence.”
After graduating from college in Boston, Amy went on to work for non-profits, then worked in the corporate world as a marketer for more than a decade. She got married, bought a house in the burbs, and was content singing at weddings and occasionally at church. But one night, sitting at her kitchen table at her home in suburban Boston, “I had this thought that came out of nowhere, that I’d never really done anything of consequence with my voice. I’d never tried. And if I was going to, now was the time.”
For Amy, “Try” meant teaming up with a guitar player she found on Craigslist to play at a local open mic. “I did an acoustic rendition of a favorite ’80s song “I Ain’t Missing You” by John Waits and that was it. I built a band and did my first real show. I had 50 people come out, then 75 at my second, and 100 at my third. It was a done deal at that point. I knew I was on to something.”
In her early shows, Amy and her band played covers of her favorite American roots artists, but she soon discovered her talent for writing her own songs and in April 2011 released her first album of original music, One Time. “a smooth, seductive sound that commands attention.” (No Depression)
Amy Black’s been playing, touring and writing ever since, and this year, with the release of her second solo album of originals, This Is Home, (Feb 4, 2014) she has fully committed herself to a career in music. “I’ve stepped away from corporate life because doing music feels like the most natural thing. I’m in my element when I’m singing on stage, like it’s exactly where I’m meant to be. And with This Is Home I feel that I’ve truly found my voice. What’s coming out of me is soulful and it’s pulling from a deeper place. I see that there’s some maturity that’s come as I have more years under my belt. I’d like to believe that I’m like a fine wine that gets better — well, you know the rest!”
This Is Home was produced by Lex Price (Mindy Smith, Peter Bradley Adams) and recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at Ben’s Studio on Music Row (formerly historic RCA STUDIO A).
Joining Amy in the studio for the album were Will Kimbrough (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell) on acoustic and electric guitars, Oliver Wood (Wood Brothers) on electric guitars, Josh Range (KD Lang, Sheryl Crow) on pedal and lap steel and piano, Ian Fitchuk (Caitlin Rose, Amy Grant) on the Hammond B-3 organ, Wurlitzer piano, drums and percussion and Lex Price (KD Lang, Mindy Smith) on electric and acoustic bass and the tenor guitar.
This Is Home features 11 original songs and two covers, plus one hidden track. Together, the songs paint a picture of the different experiences of home — the sweet, the bitter and all things in between.”My family and history are very much a part of this project. This is especially felt in the song ‘Alabama’ a cornerstone on the album. I wrote this for my family, but specifically for my granddad, a very special person in my life who passed away a few years ago. He rarely left his small town in the Muscle Shoals area of Alabama and when he did, he couldn’t wait to get back home. He didn’t feel the need to see the world like his grandchildren did. He couldn’t have been happier than when he was rocking on his back porch drinking a glass of sweet tea. And I felt incredible comfort when I joined him.”
The ballad, “Alabama,” along with the slow burner “I’m Home” make up the “sweet” of the album. In the smoky and sultry, “Old Hurt,” a woman struggles to accept her demons, and in the sleepy retro rocker “Nobody Knows You” a lover reminds her other that the “other side’s in view.” Songs including “Make Me an Angel” told from a child’s perspective, “Hello”, “Stronger” and “We Had a Life” address the more difficult topics of abuse, dementia, suicide and divorce, while “These Walls Are Falling Down” offers a glimmer of hope that a dying relationship could still be revived. And for those who just want to dance, the upbeat and playful, “Cat’s in The Kitchen” is the ticket.
“There’s certainly a mix of emotion going on when you put these songs together. But that’s what life is like. The good stuff and the painful stuff are all mixed in together. Music has always helped me to celebrate as well as connect, express and deal with the difficult things I’m facing. I hope my songs on this album can do the same for others.”
The album also includes Amy’s soulful re-imaginings of John Prine’s classic, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” as well as Rodney Crowell’s “Still Learning How to Fly,” a favorite of Amy’s. “The first time I heard Rodney sing ‘Still Learning How to Fly’ live was in a little club in Maine. It was just him and his guitar on stage, no band. I was moved. I connected with the idea of being broken, but believing that you can still become something great. On my better days, I like to think the line, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’ is true about me.
This Is Home is available at amyblack.com and through iTunes.