I was recently at a Jason Isbell show and he did a blistering version of Cover Me Up, and dedicated it to his wife, Amanda Shires, saying she was on tour. “What’s her stuff like,” my friend asked. “It’s never really moved me before,” I said back. “It’s fine, though.”
Then a few days later, she comes out with “To The Sunset” and I promptly eat my words. Amanda Shires’ latest record is easily her best yet.
The great songs start with song three, after two perfectly good, simple songs, she drops “Leave it Alone,” a lyrically complex, incredibly catchy song that really should have been the lead single. Except that honor went to Eve’s Daughter, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a much more “rock and roll” track, which will pull in Isbell’s fans. And it’s a great song, don’t get me wrong. And then sandwiched between the two is “Charms,” perhaps my favorite song on the entire album. “Maybe being human is an orphan condition and what’s missing isn’t what should be found/Maybe moving forward is my only ambition, never let myself turn around…” Whoah. That’s a chorus you could unpack for hours, and it follows a verse that so perfectly encapsulates twentysomething rebellion against a mother–defiance born of identiy and self-love, rather than rage against the parent: “Preparing to do what she couldn’t do, Gonna stay and make different mistakes/Isn’t it just like a daughter to throw it in your face.” If you’re gonna listen to this album, be ready for lyrics like that to come fast and furious.
Like on “Take on the Dark,” where she says: “I know I said everything’s gonna be okay/What I meant to say is you’ll make it through.” Realistic comfort. Take notes: This is what people really need to hear.
Basically, this isn’t a listen casually and forget record. It’s a keeper.
But I’m rushing ahead. I don’t want to let my comments on the first two songs, Parking Lot Piroutte and Swimmer, sit without explanation. They’re very good mood-setters. They’re gentle and almost trippy in a way–more like her earlier stuff, but more polished and complete.
If Shires’ albums keep getting this much better with the next release, her husband is going to face a run for his title of the best modern songwriter around.