In the press materials accompanying Amanda Shires‘s new album, ‘Take It Lake A Man’, producer Lawrence Rothman (Angel Olsen, Girl in Red, Courtney Love) is quoted saying he “thought she was the new Dolly Parton” when he heard the album for the first time. There’s definitely a lot of Dolly in Shires’s vocal style, which has the same trouble as Dolly’s; that seems to be a natural feature of her voice more than a conscious affectation. While the comparison holds as far as the vocals go, it doesn’t really hold up across.
While there is some pedal steel on here, this is decidedly a rock album. It might be fair to call this alternative country-rock, but it’s as much influenced by the piano-based singer-songwriters who reached their zenith in the 1970s as it is in any era or style of country music. Shires began her career primarily as a violin player, and there’s not a lot of strings in this album. The closest track, ‘Everything Has Its Time’, does have particularly lovely string parts. Far more prominent is the excellent guitar work provided on several tracks by her husband, Jason Isbell.
There are real echoes of the 70 singer-songwriter boom in this album. ‘Lonely at Night’ sounds like a lost track from Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’. I hear a lot of Carole King in this record, but the closest comparison I can come up, both sonically and lyrically, is Fiona Apple. Both have a way of telling detailed stories, and of working in a high degree of wit and intelligence into their writing. Their melodies are catchy — they both have a talent for putting just enough pop on top of their alternative rock style to make all of this very smooth. The horns on ‘Stupid Love’ absolutely groove, and it makes you bop along. In the attitude of both, there is a combination of steel girder strength with openheartedness.
The difference between Shires and Apple is that Apple was a child prodigy, writing songs at an exceptional level as a teenager. Shires has worked very hard to develop her talents as a songwriter, even getting a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, specializing in verse, to improve her skills. On her previous album, To The Sunset, fans and critics noticed how much stronger the songs had become, and that’s equally true of ‘Take It Like A Man’.
Comparing Shires to Carole King and Fiona Apple may seem like a strong claim, but the songs are that good. Even the sequencing of this album is well done, building from the driving rock of opener ‘Hawk For The Dove’ to the gentle, ruminative closer, ‘Everything Has Its Time’. As the album progresses, there is a consistent shift, with the songs moving in a very definite progression stylistically. Songs like ‘Take It Like A Man’ speak to women’s concerns in a way that King and Apple have throughout their careers.
This album is a pleasure to listen to, beautifully written, compelling, and still sounds great after multiple plays. Shires is at the top of her game, and she’s playing at a level few artists are. In a few months, she and Neko Case are playing on the same night in my area. I’m going to have to make a decision about what I’m going to do that night, and, no matter which I make, I’m going to miss a killer show. I love Neko, and there are not many artists I would consider missing one of her shows to see instead, but Amanda Shires is that good.
Track list: 1. Hawk for the Dove 2.Take It Like A Man 3. Empty Cups 4. Don’t Be Alarmed 5. Fault Lines 6. Here He Comes 7. Bad Behaviour 8. Stupid Love 9. Lonely at Night 10. Everything Has Its Time Record label: ATO Records Release date: 29th July 2022 Buy ‘Take It Like a Man’ now