Coming to Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneer Town Palace Friday, November 18th
By Lisa Morgan
Singer/Songwriter Amanda Shires did not come from a family of music. Still, she has found herself surrounded by some of Americana’s greats in large part to her skill, both natural and learned, but also for her veritable authenticity. Many people have come upon Shires music only recently as a result of her marriage to and her performances with her husband, Jason Isbell, who is currently doing his part to boost the popularity of the Americana genre. But Shires has been building the foundation of her own career since she a was a young teenager, performing with the Texas Playboys, and has gone on to tour and record with John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver, Todd Snider, Justin Townes Earle, and Shovels & Rope. Along the way, she’s made three solo albums, the most recent being, My Piece of Land.
Shires, a young girl growing up in a broken home where neither mom nor dad had any real expendable income, somehow convinced her father to purchase a violin for her. Having sworn that she would learn to play it, Shires struggled on her own until her mother managed to afford lessons for her. It was through that instructor that she found herself with her first real gig at the age of 14, playing with the Texas Playboys.
I personally stumbled upon and immediately connected with Amanda Shire’s music when the song, “When You Need a Train It Never Comes,” was played on Outlaw Country, Sirus Radio. Her gentle, soothing voice contrasted the angst of the heart squeezing lyrics. I personally have never needed a train, but somehow in my soul, I agreed wholeheartedly that, “No, it never comes.” Shires songs, along with her incredible musicianship have a way of gently connecting to the listener at their core in unexpected ways.
Her marriage to Grammy winning Americana/Country songster, Jason Isbell, and their subsequent pregnancy have made her the topic of conversation for many, and not necessarily for her own music prowess. At one point, Isbell, a very expressive and entertaining tweeter messaged his following, asking people to stop telling his wife that she won’t want to do music after the baby is born. Isbell understands more than anyone that Amanda Shires is an artist who is compelled to write, perform and connect with an audience and she does so brilliantly.
“People really do say things like that to you,” shared Shires with CV Weekly. “Like suddenly, something in you is supposed to change, and you won’t want to pursue your career or your passions. It’s something put upon us by people who have no clue what motherhood is about, and I’m not going to be that kind of example for my daughter. If your passion is to stay at home, that’s great – that’s a job in itself. If you feel you’re called to do other things, then you have to do them and employ some other amazing women into your life and make it work. I was told time and time again, ‘Oh, I guess you’re giving up music.’ If I was going to quit, I’d just quit. I wouldn’t quit passive aggressively and blame my child.”
When I mentioned how it would have sucked if Willie Nelson had quit since his kids are all some very good people as well as fantastic music makers, Shires responded,
“He can because he is working within the social constructs that males get to operate in.” She added poignantly, “No amount of good parenting makes up for an unhappy mother. You can’t be unhappy and be good at it.”
Touring and being a mother has handed her challenges that have required some changes to her regularly touring schedule: “I am not able to do it like before. This tour is three weeks… three weeks that I’m gone without her. Jason is able to take her because he travels in a bus so she can sleep the night through and has help when he’s doing sound checks and shows. People tend to look at him like he’s a widower, but the two are best buds. It is hard enough to travel around as an adult in a 15 passenger van, much less with a child. It’s difficult – the distance and the time. I didn’t know it would be like this when I started touring again. I just went about the normal way of doing things…three weeks is generally what we do. Next year, I’ll probably only tour a week or two and be at home for a week or two. Three weeks is a rather large chunk of time.”
Her latest release, My Piece of Land, is a direct result of the changes and insights since becoming a mother: “I had to stop touring 34 weeks into my pregnancy because flying isn’t safe and doctor’s appointments became more frequent. I was trying to accept being home alone and bringing a child into the world. After I got done doing everything I could nesting wise, like cleaning out drawers, setting up the nursery, putting an art gallery in the garage (apparently this child needed to know that the garage was on point, she laughed), I just started writing. I got a few songs in and called Dave Cobb to see if he would let me record. He said yeah. So then I played a few shows around town and recorded the rest of the time.”
Tracks like “You Are My Home,” “When You’re Gone,” and “The Way It Dimmed,” are pure truth bleeding into beautiful melody. Produced by David Cobb, most well known for producing the work of Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, every aspect of this album cuts through the clutter and rests a bar above. Neither the music nor the message of this album is forced and it is put on a pedestal beautifully by Cobb. Shires isn’t looking for mass appeal or approval, just a catalyst for her thoughts and feelings which she shares with painful honesty with insight with a simple, seemingly unintentional, genius.
Amanda Shires and her band, which performed at last year’s Stagecoach Country Music Festival, held the crowd in the palm of their hands. This show at Pappy and Harriet’s is expected to be even better, providing an intimate listening environment for this prolific songstress.
Doors open at 7 pm and tickets are $20. Seating is reserved by making a second seating (7pm or later) dinner reservations only. For more information go to www.pappyandharriets.com.