We spoke with Amilia K Spicer about the historic Trio album by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris and discussed Amilia’s latest CD, Wow and Flutter, a soothing California country recording of original songs, featuring a variety of instruments.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE:Thank you for keeping the sound of California female country rock alive, which I grew up listening to on Linda Ronstadt records. In our new January 2020 print issue of Goldmine, we highlight four Linda Ronstadt flip sides, from four consecutive decades, as we celebrate her Kennedy Center Honors induction this month. Let’s discuss one more single that she recorded with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, as part of the long awaited Trio collaboration, “Telling Me Lies,” where she sang lead and its flip side “Rosewood Casket” with Dolly Parton on lead vocals.
AMILIA K SPICER: I love it when there is wonderment in a musical experience. That’s how I feel when I hear the Trio recordings with Linda, Emmylou and Dolly together. The power of three is so deep. Each voice has its own iconic tone, with sonic fragility and fierceness. When Linda starts “Telling Me Lies,” so easy in her delivery, there is almost a casual ache that just connects you to her, because you’ve felt ache too. Her voice seems to calm the outside world. Then you hear their harmony. It seems that I came in to this world already hearing and seeking harmony, growing up in a household that played Irish folk music, Broadway musicals, Bruce Springsteen, and The Beatles, to name a few. My home was built on eclectic playlists which always inspired boisterous sing-alongs, with piles of colliding voices. Even that kind of imperfect offering made the world resonate a little more beautifully, I think, and bonds those who are singing together. On the flip side, “Rosewood Casket,” Linda’s rich tone continues, blending with Emmylou’s diaphanous strands. Dolly’s perfect warble transports me immediately to a porch in the mountains. It is the perfect vessel for the folk tradition of a cheery song about dying. Musically, there are layering wave lengths, and when done to perfection, like on Trio, it provides a mystical power to unlock something and gets us closer to the divine.
Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris
Flip side: Rosewood Casket
A side: Telling Me Lies
Hot Country Singles debut: 1987
Peak position: No. 3
Warner Brothers 28371
GM: In the mid-1990s, Linda released the album Feels Like Home, and it included songs that were intended for the Trio II album. One of them made it Trio II in 1999, some of them did not, and these songs were gentle, and the vocals were wonderful. That is what I am reminded of when I listen to your songs “Train Wreck” and “Windchill” on your Wow and Flutter CD.
AKS: Oh, well I am honored by that comparison, certainly. Thank you. When I play “Train Wreck” live I often joke that I am going to play a little love song called “Train Wreck.” If you can get a good song out of bad experiences, it helps to offset what you went through.
GM:“Fill Me Up,” has many instruments on it, including Michael Starr on violin, Eric Lynn on harmonium, and you, in addition to playing electric guitar, also playing banjo and a Hammond C3 versus Hammond B3. Please tell us about the harmonium, banjo and Hammond C3.
AKS: OK. The harmonium is squeezed, like an accordion, with the air going in and out. It is a beautiful instrument. You often hear it in new age music. Regarding the banjo, I started playing that instrument exactly one day before that recording. I was killing some time at the studio, waiting to get back in, and a beautiful old banjo from the ‘20s was sitting outside of the studio. It was in an odd tuning, but I didn’t know any different, so I just picked it up and started plucking away, and I wrote “Fill Me Up” within sixty to ninety minutes. The Hammond C3 is the sister instrument to the Hammond B3 organ, that we often hear of, and is heavier in weight. I was writing so much at the time, and as soon as I was writing a song, I wanted it to be on the record. It is a gift when a song like that comes quickly.
GM:I enjoyed watching your video for “Harlan” with the small town imagery. Melodically, there is the sing-song part that reminds me of Clint Holmes’ “Playground in My Mind” chorus, which is very catchy, and the way you handle these notes is very nice, subtle, and relaxing.
AKS: Thank you. That was another labor of love. Hopefully every song has a magical or inspired moment. That wall of harmony and piled up voices at the end occurred to me when I was singing the main harmony, so I just recorded all the voices of which some are guttural, dark and deep.
GM:The harmonies on “This Town” are also so rich and this is another favorite of mine.
AKS: Thanks. Harmony singing is actually one of my favorite things to do. I have so many friends who are talented singers that I would have loved to get on this album, but when it came to recording the harmonies, I ended up doing it myself because this is sort of my playground, and really where I start to feel that a song becomes a record. The chorus on “This Town” has a sweeping sound.
GM:“Down to the Bone” is quite a “wow” song, with your piano playing and the arrangement. There is a tenderness almost like The Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection.”
AKS: Oh my God! Ha ha, I love that! I want to put that in my bio that I have been compared to The Muppets!
GM:Then, maybe at the other end of the rainbow, there is a solemnness that I associate with Aimee Mann when I listen to your gentle and subtle approach on “Down to the Bone.”
AKS: I love that comparison to Aimee Mann too, because I love her work. Even when she is doing a quiet song there is some shadow to her voice and a little bit of edge. I love that dichotomy. When I started the Wow and Flutter album, I only played piano, like I did on my two previous CDs, but with this album I am now playing all kinds of instruments, because the new songs really lent themselves to string instruments, so the piano songs just kept getting bumped. I am particularly glad that you like “Down to the Bone,” because that is one of the few piano songs that worked out for me on that instrument.
GM:Here is some irony. You’ve got a song named “Wild Horses,” with great lyrics that you wrote, which shares a title with one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs from my favorite Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers, yet this is one where you don’t have The Rolling Stones’ bassist Daryl Johnson join you like he does on a few other songs.
AKS: We recorded that one before he began hanging out at the studio, when I was near the end of recording the album and he said, “I want to be on this.” That man is a genius, so I had to figure out something.
GM:You mentioned the end of the recording process, so let me share my observation listening to the end of the CD without looking at the song list at that point. I heard “What I’m Saying” and I thought that was a wonderful finale. The statement about namaste, Daryl’s upright bass, and the drums from Michael Jerome were all so powerful. Michael told me, “I always enjoy working with Amilia. She digs deep to find what feels honest and good in the studio and on stage. She worked hard on this record and I was happy to be a part of it.” I thought this was a great finale and I was ready to eject the CD and then came “Shine,” like an encore, but ends up being the real finale. Susan Cowsill went through a tough time after Hurricane Katrina and put out her album Lighthouse that has some very raw emotion and I hear that in you on “Shine.” What a way to end the CD with those two songs. Congratulations!
AKS: I tell you what. You have given me chills now because it is obviously wonderful to talk with somebody who has spent a lot of time with this record and appreciates all these things that I was trying to do and labor over. I had other songs that didn’t make it on the record, and I thought I should have ended it with “What I’m Saying,” which sounds powerful and victorious when we play it live. I went through decisions back and forth until the songs and the order came out as it did. You have picked up on all of my wishes and wants for it, so that is wonderful. I always marvel, because it is such a skill on how you can take a lot of information and put it together in a coherent and poetic fashion for an interview article. Thank you.
Concert photo courtesy of amiliakspicer.com
Amilia’s upcoming concert schedule can be found at:
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, writing the In Memoriam and Fabulous Flip Sides series. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.