Amanda Shires

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One of the most celebrated figures to rise from the Americana community in the 2010s and 2020s, Amanda Shires first earned a reputation as a world-class fiddler before was recognized as a gifted, imaginative vocalist and songwriter. Shires has contributed to projects with artists as diverse as Beck, John Prine, Blackberry Smoke, and Todd Snider, and she’s a key member of Jason Isbell’s band the 400 Unit as well as the all-female Americana supergroup the Highwomen. She’s also pursued a successful solo career that’s allowed her to explore her own diverse musical and lyrical ideas, from the alt country-influenced Carrying Lightning (2011) to the genre-spanning rock and pop showcase To the Sunset (2018). While most of her work has been built on a foundation of American roots music, Shires’s very adaptable talent can also make room for vintage soul sounds, ’60s-influenced pop, moody indie rock, and noisy goth-influenced epics on her ambitious 2022 LP Take It Like a Man.
Amanda Shires was born in Lubbock, Texas on March 5, 1982. Her parents divorced when she was young, and for several years she shuttled back and forth between Lubbock, where her mother was a nurse, and Mineral Wells, Texas, some 250 miles away, where her father operated a wholesale nursery. When she was ten years old, she saw a used violin at a pawn shop she was visiting with her father, and she persuaded him to buy it for her. Teaching herself to play proved complicated, so at age 12 she started taking lessons from multi-instrumentalist Lanny Fiel, who at different times played with the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra and Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. Impressed with Shires’ progress, Fiel suggested she study with Frankie McWhorter, who had played with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and still performed with a latter-day version of the group. McWhorter invited Shires to join the Texas Playboys when she was 15 and her professional career began.
By 2001, Shires had joined a Lubbock-based alt country band, the Thrift Store Cowboys, and appeared on three of their albums. In 2005, she brought out her first solo set, Being Brave, released by the small Yellowhouse label. She contributed fiddle and vocals to Rod Picott’s 2007 album Summerbirds, and the two became musical collaborators and a couple off stage. They appeared together on a pair of albums, 2008′s Rod Picott & Amanda Shires and 2009′s Sew Your Heart with Wires; Shires also issued a second solo album in 2009, the self-released West Cross Timbers. By this time, she had relocated to Nashville, and made her film debut in 2011′s Country Strong, where she was a member of the backing band of Nashville star Kelly Canter, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Also in 2011, Shires struck a deal with the Nashville-based roots music label Lightning Rod Records, which gave her self-released third LP, Carrying Lightning, a national re-release. Around this time, Shires began dating celebrated singer and songwriter Jason Isbell, and she contributed violin to his 2011 album Here We Rest. (Though she’d split with Rod Picott, they remained friendly enough for her to take part in the recording of his 2011 album Welding Burns.)
2013 was an eventful year for Shires — she and Jason Isbell were married, she released her acclaimed fourth solo effort, Down Fell the Doves, and Isbell issued his commercial and critical breakthrough, Southeastern, which featured Shires as a full-time member of his backing band, the 400 Unit. Shires was also in high demand as a studio musician and guest artist, appearing on releases from Beck, Neal Casal, Justin Townes Earle, Wanda Jackson, and Todd Snider. In 2015, Isbell delivered his follow-up to Southeastern, Something More Than Free, with Shires once again contributing violin and vocals, and in 2016, she offered her fans a new solo release, My Piece of Land. It was her most successful LP to date, and she appeared on the national sales charts at the same time, with the set landing on the rock, Americana, and independent charts. The following year, Shires and her husband had Grammy trophies for their mantel with 2017′s The Nashville Sound from Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, which was named Best Americana Album of the year. Later in 2017, Shires was named Emerging Artist of the Year by the Americana Music Awards, and she toured with songwriting legend John Prine, as well as playing on his final album, 2018′s The Tree of Forgiveness. The Prine album was produced by Dave Cobb, who was also at the controls for Shires’s next solo project, 2018′s To the Sunset, which added a number of rock and pop influences to her musical formula that took it outside the boundaries of the Americana format. It was a critical and commercial success, peaking at number 36 on the Top Albums chart.
While on the road, Shires spent a lot of time listening to country radio and was bothered by how few women were getting their due in the Nashville mainstream. With that in mind, she formed a country/Americana supergroup, the Highwomen (the name was a nod to the ’80s country supergroup the Highwaymen, featuring Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson), in which she was joined by fellow individualistic country stars Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. The Highwomen’s self-titled debut album was a smash, topping the Country Albums chart, and rising to number ten on the overall survey. True to form, Shires wasn’t too busy to sit in on sessions with artists she admired, and had guest spots on albums from Josh Ritter, Luke Combs, and Lilly Hiatt; she even popped up with Isbell and the 400 Unit on Metallica’s ambitious tribute set The Metallica Blacklist, with a cover of “Sad But True.” Shires was back with Isbell and the 400 Unit for 2020′s Reunions, which peaked at number nine on the Top 200 album chart, and she released the seasonal album For Christmas in November 2021. For Christmas was produced by Lawrence Rothman, a singer, songwriter, and vocalist who had worked with Kim Gordon, Margo Price, and Lady Gaga, among many others. Rothman had approached Shires about singing on one of their projects, and she enjoyed his adventurous style in the studio. Eager to continue to work together, Shires tapped Rothman to produce 2022′s Take It Like a Man, her first album for ATO Records and her most stylistically diverse and risk-taking effort to date. ~ Mark Deming