REVIEW: Amanda Shires’ “To the Sunset”: Mama’s Changed That Nashville Sound

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If you’ve read any of the album previews or even seen the trippy, slightly 80’s influenced album cover for Amanda Shires’ latest, To the Sunset (Silver Knife Records), it’s apparent that this album takes a very different direction than her previous works.

Accompanied by Jerry Pentecost (drums), Peter Levin (piano, keys, synthesizers), her husband Jason Isbell (guitars) and producer Dave Cobb (bass), with guest appearances by Derry Deborja (from Isbell’s band, the 400 Unit) and Gillian Welch, this is unabashedly a rock and roll record. It’s most apparent on “Eve’s Daughter,” which smacks you right in the face with loud guitars and a fuzzy, distorted bass. Shires’ violin solo even sounds almost like a slide or lap steel at some points, which is most likely the genius of Cobb pairing her violin with a few effect pedals. There’s also “Break Out the Champagne,” which lands somewhere between R.E.M and Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker’s jangly, layered guitars. Continuing with the 80s vibe, “Take on the Dark” invokes the Cure or the Smiths with its reverb drenched guitars and driving bass line. Shires’ trademark understated vocal delivery is still there, but there are moments where she just goes for it, especially on the aforementioned tracks and lead track, “Parking Lot Pirouette.”

Even with all the rock and roll overtones, Shires is a storyteller at heart. Her songs give us characters that are down on their luck, starting over, and attempting to find some redemption. Some, like the narrator in “Parking Lot Pirouette,” can’t decide if they’ve found love or lust; regardless, the narrator “turned around…/ for another one of your detours / for another night.” Others are the exact opposite–in “Charms,” the narrator only focuses on what the future may bring, stating “Maybe moving forward is my only ambition / and I never let myself turn around.” The chorus of “Maybe being human is an orphaned condition…” definitely echoes Isbell’s “The Magician,” where he croons that “I am an orphan man, but ain’t we all?” It’s probably coincidental given that Shires and Isbell rarely collaborate on songs (and the fact that “The Magician” was released on Isbell’s first solo record, Sirens of the Ditch, over 11 years ago), but the similarity is definitely striking upon first listen.

With big names like Isbell and Sturgill Simpson continually pushing the envelope and stretching the boundaries of what Americana music should be, Shires proves that women do not need to adhere to any of the supposed Americana or country confines either. And why should anyone? The last thing an artist wants is to be limited or constrained to perceived norms. Maybe being human is an orphaned condition, but being human definitely means continually growing and pushing your work forward. Grab your copy: here.  Read our interview with Dave Cobb by clicking this word: here.

 

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