It was only back in June that Amanda Rose Riley released an album called "The Fine Print" but the prolific singer-songwriter is back with another seven new tracks in the album, "Coming Home." It was written, performed, produced, and arranged completely by the Jersey artist herself. The title track refers to that glorious first concert back after the global live music shutdown — for her, it was Frank Turner opening for Counting Crows this past October.
When her previous album was released, New Jersey Stage ran a song by song look at the album from the artist's eyes. We liked how that came out, so we're doing it again with "Coming Home."
The following is a closer look at each track by Amanda Rose Riley along with a lyric video for each track - a nice touch that New Jersey Stage recommends for other indie artists.
Track 1: "Coming Home" - The inspiration for this song about the glorious return to live music after COVID shutdowns came from a few different places. First, plain and simple, I wrote it earlier in the year when I was depressed about the continuing lack of live music, so it was a way for me to dream about better days ahead and make myself feel better. Second, I heard a quote somewhere that was something like, “If I would have known that was the last time I’d see you, I would have held you that much closer” and I ended up being inspired to start this song with a similar line because it just felt like a perfect fit. Finally, I wanted to write a song that had “home” in the hook because I learned in a songwriting class that it’s one of the universal themes that always does well. I ended up having the three separate ideas of this hook, the first line, and the general idea to write a song about the return of live music. I put them all together and ended up being very happy with the resulting song: an homage to the power of live music for those of us who get it. It’s not for everyone.
I considered making this a bigger arrangement so it could be this big single, but partly because I love acoustic music and partly because I’m aware I’m not that skilled at production and arrangement, I erred on the side of staying sparse. Personally, I’m satisfied with the song being mostly acoustic and then growing a bit for a big finish on the last chorus. Hopefully the additional instruments add something to the emotional expression, and don’t take anything away.
Track 2: "Come Back Around" - I actually finished this song over a year ago, but it never seemed to fit in with any of my releases until this one. Also, when I first finished it, I felt that it was musically too similar to another one of my songs (released last year), “Better.” After a lot of rewriting and experimenting this year, I finally felt that it was different enough and ready to be released. It’s a simple song, but I’m proud of the writing and the empowering, uplifting feel.
I wrote it just before the pandemic, so I was unencumbered by all of that at the time. The song actually captures the excitement I felt seeing a plane go by when I was taking a walk while planning a trip to London (that never happened). But interestingly, I didn’t bury the song after that trip got canceled – I continued to sing it and work on it because it made me happy. And now as I prepare to finally return to that favorite city of mine and even play a show there, this song takes on new meaning again. My excitement is even greater after a canceled trip and everything else we’ve all been through these past two years.
This is also one of the better and more filled out arrangements on the album. I felt that it sounded too sparse on its own, so I worked hard at writing some simple drums/percussion, bass, and electric guitar. And yes, I know my electric guitar playing sounds like a keyboard, but it’s not!
Track 3: "Bronze" - This was an interesting song to write because I started with the ending: “So now my only goal is to sacrifice everything I have just to do what I love for a living/ I know it was never gonna be easy, but at least I’m not dreaming about winning the Olympics.”
I actually had that little chord progression and “outro” written for over a year, although I didn’t know it was an outro. I just couldn’t figure out where to put it or how to write a song about it. I put it off because I really liked it and wanted its song to do it justice. The “winning the Olympics” was not connected to anything yet; it was just something that had come to me that way and I really connected with it. Finally, one day I just sat down and racked my brain for ideas, and I came up with the idea of contrasting “winning” with the bronze. It’s a good metaphor for how I feel about pursuing music, because I don’t see myself ever winning a Grammy or being a household name, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be great, and appreciated on a smaller scale. There is value in that too, and there’s no reason to regret that you’re not “the best,” as long as you’re trying your best. I hope other people can relate to this and find it encouraging. I kept this one acoustic because I didn’t really see additional instruments as contributing to the emotions I wanted to convey.
Track 4: "You Could Do Anything" - This is another song that I wrote last year, but couldn’t find a place for it on a release until now. It’s interesting; I personally never felt that it was a very compelling song lyrically or musically, but after most of my early listeners marked it as a favorite, I’m starting to change my mind a bit.
It’s one of those lyrics that’s just very literal. I write about the different ways my parents approached what I should do with my life, and how I ultimately decided to do what makes me happy. There are no metaphors or imagery whatsoever (except “by a catastrophic landslide,” which I was quite pleased with), but I guess sometimes simplicity and straightforwardness can be compelling in its own right. Most of my songs are like that anyway, but just not to such an extreme degree. For me this song feels like a quick conversation with a friend that got expanded into a 3-minute song. For this release, I went and added some additional instruments to it, and I’m glad it’s ultimately resonating with people.
Track 5: "Running on Empty" - The feedback I got on this song was that it’s highly relatable for the like-minded people (maybe not so much for the people who are not like me, but that doesn’t really matter). But on the negative side, listeners told me that it might be a little too slow and gloomy to be a favorite. I don’t think about that sort of thing when I’m writing; I just write what I’m feeling and what I want to express. I felt that this song came out stronger than average because the process from idea to finished song was much quicker than usual. I often let ideas percolate (and procrastinate on finishing them) for years, but for this one it was only a week or two until I sat down and finished it. I wrote most of the lyrics in my first spark of inspiration and they just called out to me.
I felt that it was a perfect analogy: pursuing this career with all my heart when I have no idea if I can ever succeed is highly similar to a car trip where you have the potential (but not guarantee) to run out of gas. But what is also similar about it is that the journey, if done right, can be amazing fun, and sometimes you have so much fun that you don’t even mind when you don’t reach the “destination.”
I filled this one out a bit but still kept it pretty sparse by just including some nice vocal harmonies (which I was quite proud of), a tiny bit of electrical guitar, and an even tinier bit of strings towards the end.
Track 6:" I Don’t Love Songs" - This is probably my favorite track on the album, although I know that it’s not necessarily the catchiest one, and certainly not the most upbeat, especially since I decided to leave it acoustic. But I love it for its expressive abilities. Two facts central to understanding me are that I live and breathe music, and that I am prone to mild to moderate depressive episodes. Somehow I feel like I managed to nail the expression of both of these in this song.
In the verses, my goal was to vividly describe how music makes me feel. I was quite proud of lines like “the scent of beer soaked pine makes me think of live music” and “sick to your stomach at that perfect mix of passion and purpose and harmony and rhyme.” Those familiar with depression might recognize in the chorus (“I don’t love songs anymore, I only like them now”) a symptom called anhedonia, when you lose the ability to get pleasure from the things that gave you pleasure before.
The last verse talks about accepting these cyclical depressive episodes because I always know they will end. I have noticed them get fewer and further between as I get older, but sometimes I think it’s not the feelings themselves that have lessened, but my judgment and distress about them. Anyway, my hope with this song was not to change anyone’s thinking about these subjects, but perhaps to give people with similar feelings and experiences some lyrics in which they can see themselves. I haven’t heard anyone else express these feelings in a way that satisfied me, so I was proud of that.
Track 7: "Seeing Stars" - This will unfortunately be a tough one to play live because I pushed my comfortable vocal range a bit in the chorus. This was one of the first songs that I wrote during an intensive songwriting period this year. I approached it as somewhat of a warm-up song, so I didn’t have many expectations for it. And yet, it made it onto all my top lists as I was choosing songs to record and release. I was happy with the simple but beautiful and distinctive chord progression, and the simple but effective lyrics about a dream that is not always supported by others and is potentially a pipe dream. Of course, as with most of my songs, I had to finish on a positive note: “But nothing’s ever certain, so why can’t we just keep trying/ And everything might be all right.”
For more on Amanda Rose Riley you can check out her insights into her last album here and read a feature from 2018 when New Jersey Stage interviewed her to talk about the record, "Secrets I Told To A Sound Hole". You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Soundcloud, and Spotify.
PHOTO BY SHARED TOKENS PHOTOGRAPHY