Amanda Shires’ Take It Like a Man’ Album Discovers Power in Vulnerability

Amanda Shires striking that pose on the cover “Take It Like a Man” — is it the look of allure, or alarm? Even though it has been listened to a lot, it seems as though it could be either. The singer-songwriter-violinist kicks off her seventh solo release with “Hawk for the Dove,” about as broodingly carnal a track as you’re going to hear this year. Shires follows up that sensual opener with nine songs that mostly concern what happens after it’s over. As it turns, this kind of bracing writing is a thrill unto its own.

It’s an album about the midterms — the relationship midterms — and describing it as forthright scarcely begins to do it justice. Let’s just say that anyone currently in counseling would probably benefit from just bringing it up. “Take It Like a Man’” into their next appointment and starting the session by letting it play out at full length, even if there wouldn’t be a huge amount of time left for talking after its 37 minutes are up. Somebody’s gonna feel Hear when this record spins, and it’s not just Amanda Shires.

This confessional writing can be found somewhere in the country of county, but no one will mistake this for a commercially focused product. Not even Maren Morris, who is a mainstream star, sitting in as a guest vocalist. The album has moments that are reminiscent of country music.Cosmopolitan side of classic Nashville, when a sweet piano gets paired up with some sad strings, and maybe Jason Isbell (her husband, if you hadn’t heard, as well as her house guitarist) will lean into the baritone side of his instrument for a solo that digs deeper into the gut while every other musical element is tugging upwards at the heart.

On Side 2, where some of the cheerier-sounding songs reside, a horn section comes in to lend a very light R&B touch to the proceedings on a few deep tracks. Mostly, though, “Take It Like a Man”This song is great for brooding. Do a mental fade on Shires’ lead vocals, if you can, and without that Edgy Dolly voice, you might almost imagine some of these tunes as part of the mature, late-period Springsteen catalog, as a reference point for sound and soul-searching.

Interviews with Shires have revealed that she had experienced some stagnation in her recording career and personal life a few years back. Shires indicated that changing her partners in at least one was an option. Hence, the introduction here of a new producer and co-writer, Lawrence Rothman, a rising figure in the Americana world, who ironically — or purposefully — offers some fresh musical perspective for a record that’s at least partly about its frontwoman feeling stuck. The success of their partnership here, as if they’d been commingling for years, is proof that Shires knows a good marriage when she intuits one.

That may well go in all areas, but she’s unafraid in “Take It Like a Man” about exploring the darker, more doubting corners of a long-term relationship, coming up with lines or couplets that can knock the wind out of you for a second, regardless of whether you’re reading them as personal or universal. Many of the songs go to that place where commitment is assured but the continuation of passion isn’t, with a narrator who’s deeply attuned to even the slightest physical signals that something may be amiss, or just acclimatized. “You used to lean in like I was whispering / Any excuse to get near again,”She sings in “Empty Cups. “I still miss the way you lean in / What happened between now and then?”

And: “I was always a sucker for your wrist at my cheek.” That’s not even the first such reference on the album; earlier, she sings, “I was snared by your wrist.” For all the fetishizing That may occur on record in 2022, there’s something to be said for someone eroticizing thatAs a symbol of tenderness, you can undersong a particular body part. It’s not the only unusual expression of physical intimacy that pops up: “You were smiling so much, you kissed me with your teeth”Another keeper. The artist is not automatically a succker for a smile, but she stands out. “that grin that you give when you want me to quit”It is important to measure up a partner that may not be as invested in seeing an argument through until the end as she is.

Many of the tracks can be found on “Take It Like a Man” — the title of which can be taken several ways — explore the tentativeness that nearly anyone in a lasting relationship feels, knowing that past performances are no guarantees of future results in domestic matters. Only once in “Fault Lines,” does the artist really allow for the possibility of a permanent fissure — for the length of a song, she imagines the explaining that would have to be done and blame that would have to be placed, or not: “You can say I lost my grip / Say whatever feels better or whatever / You can just say I’m crazy.”She sings a bit more later in the song, which is kind of depressing. “And so you know, I’ll say, ‘I don’t know’ / But no one’s gonna be asking me” — maybe alluding to what it’s like to be with a slightly higher-profile partner, or maybe just generalizing about how society’s gender hierarchies force someone to take hard knocks like a woman.

Lest it seem like she’s sentimentalizing her own struggles, there can also be a pragmatically self-knowing quality to the way she gets at how these doubts, demons and unmet needs are a normal part of life: “I’m losing my balance / I’m not losing my mind,”In the tellingly titled, she speaks with almost comical, fact-based frankness “Don’t Be Alarmed.”

“Take It Like a Man” isn’t as sad an album as these excerpts might suggest it is. The second half of the album, as mentioned previously, is more lighthearted, with a track such as “Here He Comes,”This is a more sexy number that shows the power of pheromones, even when you don’t feel like your emotional needs are being met. The album will play the same opening number on repeat, so you can always hear it. “Hawk for the Dove,”Shires describes herself almost literally as a benign prey. It’s like the seasoned woman’s “I’m Gonna Getcha Good.” And it’s one of the few times on the albums where she busts out her trademark fiddle, not for finesse but nearly sawing away at it, in a culmination of the slow-burning tune’s steamy ferocity.

But even in the album’s most vulnerable moments, maybe especially in those moments, Shires is proving what a tough character she really is, exploring territory that singer-songwriters a little less sure of themselves would fear to tread. You’d just about have to have some of the cockiness that Shires’ friends and fans know she has to sing this nakedly about about the uncertain moments. If there’s any danger in letting both power and unguardedness fill her sails, well, she can take that like a catamaran.

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