Photo Credit: Michael Schmelling
The best song on Amanda Shires’ eighth solo album, “Everything Has It’s Time” is a kaleidoscopic collection of memories jarringly placed alongside dispatches from the present day. The song captures love in a state of irreversible disrepair and in doing so heart-wrenchingly captures all that has been. “There was a time when it was hard for us to say ‘goodnight,’” begins Shires before recounting times of kissing under streetlights and dancing all night. Downcast, she then admits, “Now we just walk through the door // Turn out the light and go to bed // Can’t remember who we were before.” The song is so dizzyingly powerful for the way it contrasts those stunning moments of simplicity where everything in life seems to glow just a little bit brighter with the point at which we give up on finding magic every day and instead reliably opt for the path of least resistance. In the song’s final moment, Shires repeats the titular line over the sweeping violin and delicate drums; her voice lingering on the last word – wobbling yet resolute, confirming definitively that the point of no return has been reached.
The preceding nine tracks capture how we got here; the lingering resentment, the sense of isolation that comes from being with someone you now feel emotionally and spiritually distant from (which is often so much worse than the isolation of actually being physically alone), and the heady mixture of desire, nostalgia, and false hope that prolonged the eventual realization. The 37 minutes journey is heartfelt, vulnerable, expertly rendered, and, most surprisingly, often consciously funny – like when Shires changes the final line of the title track from “I know I can take it like a man” to “I know I can take it like Amanda.”
Take It Like A Man often alternates between wildly disparate emotions from one song to the next – and sometimes even within songs. Opener “Hawk For The Dove,” is Shires at her boldest and most self-assured, as she venomously warns, “I’m coming for you like a hawk for the dove.” The following title track is Shires at her most vulnerable and exposed – that is, at least, in the verses; where Shires evokes imagery of an ensnared animal to capture her relationship and croons “I could have crowed.” But then in the choruses, she declares, “I know I can take it like a man” – at first sounding timid, like she’s trying to convince herself of this more than she is anyone else, but soon triumphant as her voice grows in power and the mix rises accordingly.
Shires is a powerhouse vocalist – undeniably one of the best in the modern country scene and thus gravitates towards sweeping, dramatic ballads that draw focus to her voice. Sure enough, these make for some of the album’s most incisive moments – like on the instant standout “Empty Cups,” where Shires’ towering vocal delivery elevates simple metaphors (“my hands are two empty cups”) to almost cosmic levels of significance. The song is equally powerful, however, at its most sparse – over a simple, ascending piano line she recalls, “You slammed the door so hard, I still hear rattling spoons // The sound of silence rings in every room,” her voice quivering on that final word. Rarely does music sound this beautifully, delicately, terrifyingly human.