Take It Like a Man (Amanda Shires) – music review

On 2018’s To The Sunset, singer/songwriter and self-described fiddle player Amanda Shires made it clear that she wasn’t interested in limiting her musical expressions to country music alone. Beyond playing a supportive role in her husband Jason Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, Shires brought together The Highwomen in ‘19, a collaboration with Brandi Carlisle, Natalie Hemby, and Maren Morris, designed to push back against the scarcity of female voices represented on country music radio formats. Now, spurred on by producer Lawrence Rothman, who claims to be Shires’ “hype girl and cheerleader” in the album bio, Shires is ready to stand on her own two musical feet and, as she sings in the title track, “and I know I can take it like Amanda.”

It was an invitation to sing harmonies with Rothman on their Good Morning, America album, which opened doors for a collaboration on her For Christmas album last year, and now this ten-song collection finds Shires making a musical statement on her own artistic terms. While there’s no escaping the influence of country music on her songwriting and Dolly Parton-like high vocal stylings, Shires again delivers an expansive musical smorgasbord, beginning with the hard rocking “Hawk For The Dove,” that opens the record with intensity as she plays an overdriven fiddle solo with the urgency of Neil Young playing with Crazy Horse. Put that up against the orchestrated Bacharach-like ballad “Lonely at Night,” that Shires wrote with Peter Levin, and you get a sense for the musical breadth she delivers on her strongest album yet, and perhaps her most personal.

While some in a celebrity relationship might try to hide the flaws and struggles of maintaining a long-term committed relationship, Shires is committed to a more honest appraisal, whether it’s being willing to take the blame for a failed marriage (“Fault Lines”) or acknowledging that “nothing lasts forever,” and that things change once the passion of youth has passed (“Everything Has It’s Time”). Shires knows we’re all capable, maybe even attracted to “Bad Behavior,” and she certainly remembers the passionate pull of “Stupid Love,” and losing control when “Here He Comes,” just as she longs “to keep the newness from wearing off” (“Empty Cups”). Shires seems to realize that if a relationship is going to thrive amid life’s tempestuous ups and downs, it requires a level mutuality and appreciation that is only possible when both parties can come together honestly as well as fly on their own, as she sings in the title track: “I know the cost of flight is landing.”

Amanda Shires puts it all out there on Take It Like A Man. She’s writes honestly about her life in music that expands her reach and impact, while offering a personal statement that many of her listeners will connect with. Playing with the 400 Unit on tour early this year, Shires and Isbell exhibited pleasure in each other’s musical contributions, and at one point acknowledged their daughter who was standing just off-stage in the wings. They seemed to have found a unique balance between their two musical careers and the family they’ve shaped together. When Shires played fiddle or sang an occasional lead vocal, she appeared both confident and joyful, someone comfortable in her own shoes, at peace for now in her choices. As she sings on this new album, she appears to be able to take life as it comes, “like Amanda.”

Brian Q. Newcomb
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