Amanda Shires has gone through an emotionally wrenching period that — at different points — made her question whether to continue pursuing her music career and wondering if her marriage would survive.
The marriage — to fellow musician Jason Isbell —made it through a rough patch that started when he was recording 2020’s Reunions. And Shires, thanks to meeting indie folk musician/producer Lawrence Rothman, returned to her solo career with Take It Like a Man, her seventh — and best — studio album.
Now on the road to promote the record, which mines the marital discord and subsequent “internal wandering” the couple had to do to stay together, Shires’ tour stopped at Washington, D.C.’s 930 Club with her four-piece band on Friday. And it was, quite simply, a transformative performance.
Following a short enjoyable set by opener Honey Harper, Shires alternated between fiddle and electric guitar as she led her group through a set that included six of the 10 songs on Take It Like a Man and four cuts from 2018’s near breakthrough To the Sunset. She also performed a lovely version of “Don’t Call Me,” a track from the first album by The Highwomen, a country supergroup Shires formed with Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby.
The new songs from “Take It Like a Man” shined. Shires’ voice has grown stronger and more confident since I last saw her play a set at last October’s ShoalsFest, her first live solo performance since the pandemic began and only weeks after surgery following an ectopic pregnancy. She appeared fragile and nervous during the festival, but not on Friday, as she ripped through the title track (a haunting torch song), first single “Hawk for the Dove,” and the devastating one-two punch of “Empty Cups” and “Fault Lines,” which was followed by the happy, soulful “Stupid Love.”
As Shires performed the songs from the new album, you could see her confidence grow in front of the supportive, nearly sold out crowd. Friday’s show was only the third on the tour but after seeing Shires several times solo over the past six years, it was nice to see her in total control from the start.
Having worked for most of her career as part of a band, Shires sang on three tracks without her fiddle or guitar. She joked that she didn’t know what to do without holding an instrument until Morris and her husband, Ryan Hurd, showed her three moves, which included a walking the dog and the “strut and wave.”
“I’ve only met one person shorter than me and it’s Maren Morris,” she said. “In case she sees me I’m wearing my extra tall shoes.” She then clarified to the buzzing crowd that the diminutive Morris was not at the show, but the two were texting and the singer was on the lookout for clips.
Shires’ growing confidence on stage was lovely to see, and the soundscape she formed in recording the new album with Rothman is a terrific new direction for her occasionally opaque, sometimes literal, always poetic lyrics. (Isbell and 400 Unit bass player Jimbo Hart played on the record, while Morris and Brittney Spencer contributed vocals.)
If you haven’t bought or streamed Take It Like a Man, take a few minutes and do so. It is one of the best albums of the year. If you haven’t seen Shires live as a solo act, catch her tour if you can. After a long few years, she’s on a roll.
Enjoy our earlier coverage here: REVIEW: Amanda Shires “Take It Like A Man”
Discover more about Honey Harper here: https://www.honeyharpermusic.com