Grammy and Americana-award-winning
singer-songwriter and virtuoso violinist Amanda Shires has pushed the reset
button, releasing an album that is so unlike anything she has ever recorded before
that you would be tempted to think it’s her debut album instead of her seventh.
Take It Like a Man
is a fearless confessional, showing the world what
turning 40 looks like in 10 emotionally raw tracks, and as the title track
intimates, not only can she “take it like a man,” but more importantly she can
“Take it like Amanda,” as the last line proclaims
the clue to the
entire album, and perhaps Shires herself.
“I wrote that last line, ‘take it like
a man,’” says Shires from her barn/studio located about 30 minutes outside of
Nashville. “Then I changed it. I realized you can try and do what they say and
take it like a man and show that you can withstand anything. But truly you can
only take it like yourself.”
There are few musicians of Amanda
who would bewilling to
sacrifice so much of their privacy and personal life for the sake of a record.But for her,
art isn’t meant to be constrained,
ever since her earliest days.
The native Texan got her
start playing fiddle with the
toured and collaborated with John Prine, Todd Snider, Justin Townes Earle and
others, and has
of husband Jason
400 Unit band. Winner of the Americana M
sic Association’s 2017 Emerging
f the Year award, she has released a series
of rapturously received solo album
In Shires’ world, music is how the tribe communicates.
s that sort ofcommunal thinking
that inspired her to form The Highwomen – a concept that was born in 2016 which
Amanda envisioned as an all-women supergroup intended to share the same
swashbuckling spirit as
country outfit The Highwaymen. That band, consisting of
country music legends
Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris
Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, was a successful reaction to a prevalent
ageism in Nashville circles. The Highwomen –
Shires, Brandi Carlile
, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby — aspired to
redress the scarcity of women artists on country radio, and released a
critically acclaimed self-titled album in 2019.
“I realize I have a responsibility to
tell the truth and if it empowers someone, all the better,” Shires says
, who is often seen donning one of her trademark hats
from her vast collection.
My goal is to
accurately explain my feelings to myself and hopefully find folks out there
that feel or have felt the ways that I do. I share so much personal information
so that others don’t have to feel alone.”
something she has achieved superbly on her new album, thanks in large part to a
creative rebirth inspired by a chance encounter. Shires had no plans to record
an album during the pandemic … if at all. A couple of events left her
disenchanted with some of her choices, musical and otherwise, andhad
her wondering if she should continue.
“I just wasn
t thinking about recording or performing, because I was
protecting myself from what I thought could be the loss of music and touring
altogether,” Shires admits. “Even when it was clear this wasn
t the bubonic plague, I wasn
letting myself think of what the future looked like.”
Meanwhile, Lawrence Rothman, an
extravagantly talented gender-fluid singer-songwriter and producer, was in the
process of recording their sophomore album,
Good Morning, America
who has also worked with the likes of Angel Olsen, Girl in Red, Courtney Love
and Kim Gordon,wanted Shires to sing harmonies on one of the tracks.
When I discovered Amanda
s music it was the first time I heard a voice where I said to
myself if I ever had to get in the studio with anybody other than myself to
produce my own music, it would definitely be this fairy over here, this little
bird of a woman. I was just mesmerized. I thought she was the new Dolly Parton;
Dolly for a new generation,” remembers Rothman on the phone from Los Angeles.
While Shires hadn
t heard of Rothman, she responded to their request because of
something her late mentor and friend John Prine taught her.
John listened to everything that
crossed his desk, and that
s why he
took a chance on me. Lawrence Rothman
sent my manager a song, and because of John I listened to it.
Wow, OK,’ I thought after I heard it. Plus, I loved that they
wanted me to sing. Usually people just want me to play violin.”
In November 2020, Shires got in touch
with Rothman. The two began a conversation by text that continued for hours. By
s end they had cowritten a song
on their phones. The two worked for three
days right before Christmas, and ended up with three songs.
Those just clicked, but other than that, I had
nothing else written,” explains Shires.
We decided to meet up after Christmas and
continue working.” That collaboration also resulted in 2021’s critically
album, the rare holiday record that explores the
full range of emotions people cycle through during a season that’s not all
comfort and joy.
“I wasn’t going to take any of that
‘I’m giving up on music’ from her,” says Rothman. “I do know that she was on
the brink of like throwing the towel in. The whole time I stood by her, right
by her mike while we did everything. I was never in the control room. I said to
her, ‘I’m like your hype girl. I’m like your cheerleader. I’m your
Lawrence talked about feelings in music and about
sounds for hours all day, and it rekindled in me the warmth I have for music
and the love I have for words — and reminded me that the music business isn
t all just a grimy slimeball,” explains
just seemed to fall into place.
“The problem was,” she laughs, “When we came back after our trial
days, I had to write more songs.
I had plenty of things written down between my
journals and my index cards,” says Shires.
My writing process is I take the journals that
ve kept and I go through with a
highlighter and pick out words, partial lines, ideas or themes. Sometimes just
a metaphor or something my daughter has said or an observation. Then I copy all
highlighted words onto an index card with a black Sharpie and I put the index
cards in a box. Then I put the journals in the shredder and I put the shredder
in the compost, which goes to my tomatoes in the summer.”
By the time Rothman came back a month later, the compost box was
overflowing and the walls of Shires’ barn were covered in index cards that she
d attached with painter
s tape (doesn
t ruin the
!). In less than a month Shires had
written 26 songs deciphering what had been going through her mind,
from 2018, where her
To the Sunset
off, to the present.
The result is a song cycle of
ruthlessly candid tunes written as a document about her life as a woman, a wife
(to husband Jason Isbell) and a mother during a tumultuous time
Produced by Rothman,
featuring Isbell on guitar on several tracks,
s an album filled with revealing autobiography, sexual
tempestuousness, resentments and recrimination, spun out with a logic and
sequencing as obliquely plotted as an Agatha Christie mystery. Each song
reveals either a hidden passage to another song or an insight into the
marriage, the crimes that were committed, the accusations sparked but never
uttered, and the love that exists between them still.
But it’s not a break-up album. Its arc feels more like the
anatomy of a marriage, depicting how over time affection and closeness rise and
uncomfortable with the idea of everything in the public seeming so perfect, and
needing to be presented right. Just because people listen to Jason
s records and go to his shows and
t mean they don
t need to know that our marriages look exactly the same as
theirs. You take all that celebrity stuff away, and our marriage is just like
everybody else’s,” Shires says.
We were having problems before Covid, and then during Covid
there was a lot of pressure, like with everybody,” she amplifies.
We were sitting
here in our wonderful house and talking about the people that didn
t make it through that. What we decided
is that we
re happiest if we work on
ourselves. Then we have more to offer each other.”
the time alone came with some big realizations for Shires. While both she and
her husband are artists, she had more domestic jobs and responsibilities than
he did, and it was making her resentful.
s Covid talent was getting better at the guitar, playing it eight
hours a day. What was my Covid talent? It was setting boundaries. I allowed
myself to take up more space in my own life.
Covid did for me. It gave me the courage and freedom to say,
on something that
to me, and I
m going to keep working on it
till I have it right.
Because of that decision, I think these are
better songs than I
ever before, because I held that line. There is a confidence that comes from
not bending. T
his album is a document of what
the past few years have been like for me. I figured out what it takes for me to
feel satisfied at the end of the day. I drew my boundaries. I held on tight. I
allowed myself to serve my work uncompromisingly.
s true what they say on airplanes before you take off: You
have to put your own mask on before you can help anybody else.”
Just as important was Shires’realization that she needed an identity outside of her
and motherhood. No longer the well-behaved musician of her earlier albums, she
has gotten rid of most of the good-girl trappings, the plaid shirts and
Take It Like a Man
written songs that crackle with pain, resentment, longing, anger, and ennui.
The album documents a woman giving birth to herself: a musical version of the
famous 1932 Frida Kahlo painting
, only a little less graphic. Over this suite of songs,
she fearlessly excavated what the couple had gone through.
is a dark, haunting Southern gothic full of minor-chord bravado and overt
seduction, shot through with an evocative gypsy fiddle and Isbell
s echoing guitar. Her voice on the title
track — originally titled
Common Loon” — is a revelation: It’s a song
about being brave enough to choose to go ahead and
fall in love knowing that love/relationships don’t always go as planned.
Tremulous and anxious, it
elegant waltz full of peril and sadness, a song that wouldn
t be amiss as an accompaniment to Edgar Allen Poe
Masque of the Red Death.
Empty Cups” turns back time; with its
gauzy imagery and wrecked poetry, it recalls Van Morrison during his early
years. Featuring background vocals from Highwomen cohort Maren Morris, it shows
the true depth of Shires’songwriting
t Be Alarmed” offers a small shred of
hope and humor thanks to the crack team of Shires, Ruston Kelly, Liz Rose and
Isbell, and contains some of the album
Another key track is “Fault Lines,”
the first song Shires wrote for the album. “That was a big clue to what was
going on. For some people marriage is easy. For my mom it is — she
s done it five times!” laughs Shires.
I second-guessed myself a lot
keeping ‘Fault Lines’ on the record
, saying to myself,
want people to know this or hear this?’”
says Shires softly.
I guess I could
more vague with words, but my intentions were to tell the truth the best that I
could from the place that I was in.”
As a stately drum mimics a beating
heart and the second stage of grief,
Fault Lines” assigns responsibility for relationship strains
He Comes,” the last song written for the record, is upbeat, jazzy and hopeful,
Behavior,” with Brittney Spencer and
’ background vocals, is suggestively light and
The title track, buttressed by mournful horns, seethes with
Shires’ raging, unruly electric violin.
Stupid Love” promises a smoky blue light at
the end of a claustrophobic tunnel, while
Lonely at Night” contends that love endures no
matter what has transpired. Enhanced by singer-songwriter Brittney Spencer
s harmonies, it sounds like something
Dusty Springfield could have sung in the
or Cat Power in the
Everything Has Its Time,” co-written
with Highwomen band member Natalie Hemby, is a cautionary tale, cinematic and
prophetic and full of homespun truths, like the kinds Dolly Parton used to
dispense around the time of
“Everything on the record is
autobiographical. I didn
anything back. Then, if the details were boring I infused other stories,” she
granddad said, if your story
s not good
enough just make it better.”
“I think what I
ve learned is any time you get your heart broke, from love,
music, your business, your life, you always think that
s it!” Shires reflects.
But it hardly ever is. You look back and say
glad that wasn
t it at
a cycle that keeps repeating over and over, like Gabriel García Má
A Hundred Years of Solitude
. The end is rarely the
s just another loop of the
wheel. Matters of the heart get confusing. But when you
re in need of something, somehow the universe gives it to you
if you can just hold on a little bit longer.”
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