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Amanda Shires holds nothing back at Nashville album-release show

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

I’m not gonna lie. We went to Amanda Shires record release show because we’re shameless Jason Isbell groupies and we thought it would be a cool Nashville scene. Yes, he was there. (Shires is married to him, if you don’t know. They are kind of the Tammy Wynette and George Jones of the Americana/alt-country scene here. And we actually had a lovely conversation with his dad!)

But we walked out the door at the end of the show talking about Shires and her songs.

“Take It Like a Man,” out today, is her first new album since 2018. There apparently was some pain and tension in the Shires-Isbell household during Covid. We know because she sang it to a few hundred of us at Jack White’s Blue Room Thursday.

“Fault Lines,” which she introduced ironically as a “light-hearted little ditty,” is an anticipation of who will take the blame when a marriage of two famous people – one of them perhaps a bit more famous - collapses.

There’s nothing left to fix

You can say I lost my grip

Say whatever feels better or whatever

You can just say I’m crazy

You can say it’s all my fault

We just couldn’t get along

And so you know I’ll say I don’t know

But no one’s gonna be asking me

“Everything on the record is autobiographical. I didn’t hold anything back,” Shires said in press notes with the album release.

In an excellent article in the Nashville Scene earlier this week, journalist Lorie Liebig, who interviewed Shires, explained the situation in more detail. Shires, apparently, had all but given up on her recording career during Covid, locked down with a husband and young child and exploring painting. Although she’s garnered praise for several earlier albums, and for her work with the alt-country super group The Highwomen, Shires was frustrated by poor results in the studio. And there were bumps in the marriage.

“Shires and her husband Jason Isbell hunkered down at home as lockdowns were put into effect across the globe," Liebig wrote. "She mourned the loss of close friend and legendary songwriter John Prine, who died from COVID complications in April 2020, and juggled the daily responsibilities and stresses of motherhood, all while trying to work through marital issues.“

I won’t presume to know anything about the current state of their marriage. But I can tell you that Isbell is credited with playing guitar on all but two of the songs on the album, and co-wrote one of them. And, at the record-release show, he was standing just off stage, holding their 6-year-old daughter, Mercy, on his shoulders. She wore a mask and headphones. But the two of them cheered enthusiastically – he in his distinctive Alabama tenor – after each song.

Shires also had a moment Thursday night with Brittany Spencer, who joined her for "Bad Behavior," as she did on the album.

Another show highlight a song - I say it was "Take It Like a Man." My wife says it was "Hawk For the Dove" - which took Shires and the band into a surging jam. Shires told the crowd it was the kind of moment, where musicians feed off each other and the band feeds off the crowd, that she strives for every night she plays.

"Something magical happens," she said. "It takes you. It takes them. All of us together."

Isbell joined her on stage for an encore, heaping praise on the show that had just wrapped up. The song they sang is an example of why both are beloved on the alt-country side of the Nashville scene – aka, the Left - where social justice causes are often front and center.

“This song is very personal,” Shires said. “But it is also something we really need to be talking about right now.”

They then delivered a searing rendition of “The Problem,” a beautiful song about a young woman, and her boyfriend, contemplating abortion.

Although Shires appeared nervous as she took the stage to start the show, describing some butterflies as she prepared to “sing these songs in public for the first time,” she quickly slipped into a friendly and playful stage persona. And she was backed by a solid band, at times including horns and strings for particular tracks.

Also joining her for one song was her daughter, whom Shires explained "wanted to come out here and dance." Together they sang and danced their way through "Don't Call Me." Perhaps indicative of the respectful Nashville crowd, I didn't see a single phone-camera out during the song, after Shires asked politely that people refrain from photographing her daughter.

Shires is heading out on a three-month tour in September. You can find dates here.:

Check out tours in Nashville here.


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