Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
After her solo debut “All That I Am & All That I Was”, the second version of “In Our Souls” sees Amy Birks refine her formula even further and it’s another thing of absolute beauty.
Quintessentially English, the lush arrangements and pastoral motifs that populate this new album bring with them a heady nostalgia that perfectly distills the atmosphere of the time of the Brontë sisters, which was a real driving force here.
With lyrics taken from a poem by Charlotte Brontë, the self-titled opener “In Our Souls” is a stripped-down thing of wondrous beauty, the distinctive piano and cello voices themselves. As with the rest of the album, there’s a real sense of time and place evoked as the music’s pastel tones are speckled with the hope of new dawns and a gentler spirit.
It’s not an album designed to overwhelm you though, though much of it undeniably soothes the senses, Birks is too fine a writer to opt for easy options and bland emotions. The powerful and redemptive ‘Hold On’ evokes entirely different feelings and the deeply personal ‘Brothers’ suffer pain but bristle with catharsis, the music containing steely strength
while not bludgeoning.
Part of what makes the album so powerful is its use of sparing use of instrumentation, everything is allowed to breathe while the multiple layers add pops of color. It’s a tightrope balance but an if
beautifully designed that there is never any sense of the music being overcrowded, the electric has eschewed the more natural sounds of acoustics.
That’s not to say there aren’t modern touches, the vocal arrangement of plaintive ‘The One That Got Away’ has some pop undertones and there are echoes of Kate Bush’s styles that have lit up so many audiences. Birks debut in the angular but otherworldly style. ‘Cannot contain’.
John Hackett’s flute dances with unbearably tender acoustic guitar on the Emily Brontë-influenced ‘A Death Scene’, all so delicate it could make angels cry. From celestial to earthly, “The Woman in White” is another of Birks’ autobiographical pieces, a reflection of a relationship passed through a dark mirror that blends orchestral grace and traditional folk sensibilities.
There’s another twist with ‘The Dream’, this nod to Anne Brontë sees the voice as the dominant instrument, a piano adding its own light and shadow.
While there are certainly darker moments of raw, yet poetically eloquent honesty, the overriding themes here are ones of hope, self-determination and strength, life lessons learned. “Goodnight for Now” exemplifies this perfectly, the presence of the world the Brontë sisters conjured up in its warmth of the summer sun and its roaring fire on winter nights as the realities of life throng outside, the heart taking both.
With the delightful waltz of ‘Living in Sin’ and an instrumental coda of the title track rounding out the album, ‘In Our Souls’ is another step forward for Ms. Amy Birks on what is a truly fascinating road. Evoking hopes and dreams, this album could be the most beautiful and moving you will hear this year, its appeal as timeless and potentially enduring as the works of the sisters who inspired it so much.