For Amanda Shires, the title of Reigning Queen of Americana was hers for the taking after the breakthrough success of her 2016 album My Piece of Land, her partnership with Americana King Jason Isbell as the fiddler in his band the 400 Unit (and also as his spouse), and as founder of the all-female country supergroup the Highwomen. But the stylistic wanderlust of her 2018 album To The Sunset suggested that as smart and well-crafted as her previous work had been, she felt hemmed in by the boundaries of country and its hipper offshoots, and she wanted more creative room to move. With 2022's Take It Like a Man, Shires has given herself all the space she needs to blaze new trails, and it's a bold and compelling new beginning for her. Working with producer Lawrence Rothman, Shires has thrown off nearly all of her country influences, outside of the Dolly Parton-like quaver of her voice (which she's rarely used to better effect), and as a singer and tunesmith, this finds her taking chances and stepping up her game. The opening track "Hawk for the Dove" is gloriously ominous in its minor key menace, Shires' bold confessions of her worst appetites, and a fiddle solo that recalls Neil Young's guitar at its most buzzy and fractured. The song throws down a gauntlet that this isn't what you'd expect from Amanda Shires, and while it's the most confrontational moment on Take It Like A Man, the glorious evocation on 1960s Deep Soul in "Stupid Love," the Bacharach/David echoes of "Lonely at Night," the vintage AM pop strut of "Here He Comes," and the sweet gospel accents of "Everything Has Its Time" leave no doubt that Shires has the talent to do whatever she chooses and make it her own. Lyrically, these songs go back and forth between testaments of inner strength (the title song) to meditations on relationships in free fall ("Fault Lines"), and some unblinking self-examination ("Empty Cups," with a vocal assist from her Highwomen colleague Maren Morris), and her writing is literate, perceptive, and unafraid of what can happen when you explore life's darker shadows. Producer Rothman makes the performances sound big but never bloated, and the accompanists (which include Jason Isbell on guitar, Jimbo Hart on bass, and Peter Levin on keyboards) handle the many moods of these ten songs with aplomb and assurance. Amanda Shires' previous work, on her own and as a collaborator, has long proved she is a major talent, and with Take It Like A Man, she's made a striking, deeply satisfying album that follows no rules other than what her muse has chosen, and it's inarguably her finest work to date.
Take It Like a Man Review
by Mark Deming