A bold new direction for this acclaimed singer and fiddler might raise some eyebrows.
If her 2018 release, To The Sunset’, found Amanda Shire moving away from the down-home roots of her previous albums, then ‘Take It Like A Man’ finds her firmly slamming the door on her past. ‘To The Sunset’, produced by Dave Cobb, had Shires at times delivering loud and raucous Southern rock with husband Jason Isbell unleashing some blistering guitar. While Isbell also appears on ‘Take It Like A Man’, the producer’s seat is now occupied by Lawrence Rothman who also co-wrote the title song, the pair having initially bonded when they collaborated on Shire’s 2021 Christmas album, and much of the album finds Shires in brand new territory.
Shires credits Rothman with revitalising her song writing, having contemplated walking away from music as Covid hit. ‘Take It Like A Man’ is being described in the publicity as “a song cycle of ruthlessly candid tunes written as a document by Amanda about her life as a woman, a wife and a mother during a tumultuous time. “ Be that as it may, this reviewer strained to find much evidence of a song cycle here although song titles such as ‘Empty Cups’, ‘Bad Behaviour’, ‘Fault Lines’ and ‘Stupid Love’ do suggest that the album is not going to chock-full of wholesome fun songs. Much of the problem lies in the tendency for some of the songs to be overwhelmed by the arrangements which hark back to prog rock or dull Pink Floyd workouts. This tendency is apparent from the portentous opening chords of the opening song ‘Hawk For The Dove’, featuring a frenzied fiddle break which reminds one of Dave Arbus of East Of Eden. Shires’ vocals prowl through the song with her seemingly bent on revenge but without actually saying much other than that she might be a closet Goth. It’s followed by the title song which fits in with Shires’ involvement in celebrating the new found diversity in Nashville but which actually comes across, bizarrely enough, as if it were composed for a James Bond movie. Meanwhile, ‘Here He Comes’ finds Shires channelling a 1980’s vision of Kate Bush which might sound interesting but, unfortunately, the arrangement channels much of what was wrong with 1980s’ record production.
There are moments to savour. ‘Don’t Be Alarmed’ opens as a gentle acoustic number with Shires singing like Dolly Parton but there’s a dark underbelly to this farewell song which is climaxed by a short flurry of chiming guitar, ‘Fault Lines’ follows in much the same vein as Shires sings of being gaslighted. But the best is kept to the last on a trio of songs which outshine the rest of the album. The horn assisted southern soul of ‘Stupid Love’ slides down as easily as Tupelo Honey and ‘Lonely At Night’ reminds one of Laura Nyro with its jazzy romance. ‘Everything Has Its Time’ closes the album on a fine bitter sweet note with sweeping strings adding to the pathos on a song which is part panacea, part regret.