Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Amanda Shires - Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury Monday 19th May 2014

Photo credit Erica Shires
You know you’re in for a good evening when the artist strides onto the stage and announces their arrival with a stunning a cappella version of a song from their back catalogue. She may have based her reputation on being an exceptional violin player but, with that opening, Amanda Shires continues to show her musical diversity. This evening’s gig in Shrewsbury was further evidence of her evolution into a top notch Americana artist and throughout her twin set performance a sizable Henry Tudor House audience were in full appreciation of her talents.

Amanda has toured in several different formats over the years and on this UK trip she has teamed up with bassist Stephanie Dickinson to form a duo, with the chemistry flourishing both on and off the stage. Whilst her recent career has been intrinsically linked with husband Jason Isbell, Amanda is the proud architect of a fabulous trio of solo albums and she decided to base much of this evening’s set around the two most recent releases with an understandably particular emphasis on 2013s DOWN FELL THE DOVES.

As is usual in my extensive live music experience, a gig often throws up a surprise standout track and from the deep well of the latest album, a serene version of ‘Stay’ made a instantly pleasing lasting impression. This song just eclipsed ‘Bulletproof’ which has long since been an album favourite and Amanda took great delight in vividly explaining its inspiration from an encounter in Tampa, Florida. ‘The Garden Song’, ‘Devastate’ and ‘Wasted and Rolin’’ were amongst those selected for the opening set with ‘Look Like a Bird’ launching the second part of this enjoyable evening.

The rendition of this track was one of the few occasions Amanda chose to sample her violin skills during the performance, instead deciding to major on ukulele, both electric and acoustic. She was immensely proud of her Martin branded version of the latter and this neatly blended with the subtlety of Stephanie’s double bass playing. You only need to hear a solitary note from Amanda to identify her distinct vocals which fuel your ears in a quirky yet satisfying manner. After she opened with ‘Kudzu’ from CARRYIN’ LIGHTNING, they continued to define the best parts of the evening and probably peaked in a fine version of the popular ‘When You Need A Train It Never Comes’.

Photo credit Erica Shires
As the evening progressed the stories from Amanda became a little more random but you were left in no doubt about the pride she has in her Texan roots. Amongst family recollections, we learnt of the origins of the song ‘Mineral Wells’ which was in fact one of the two locations she called home. This track is to be found on WEST CROSS TIMBERS, an older album, which while a bedrock of her previous tours was very much side lined in providing material for the set list.

During the evening, Amanda name checked a stellar list of artists who she had worked with including Justin Townes Earle, Billy Jo Shaver and Todd Snider. However for tonight’s show she chose to cover the Leonard Cohen song ‘I’m Your Man’ to reveal where her other influences lie. Like so many multi-talented artists operating out of Nashville, Amanda is primarily a singer songwriter and her original material demonstrates a high degree of depth and quality.

While husband Jason was simultaneously storming other UK venues on this joint visit, Amanda Shires continues to develop into a significant artist in her own right. While collaborations with Jason will no doubt continue to feature in the future, Amanda Shires is certain to grow in standing as a performer who writes, sings and plays great songs in a style core to the ideals of folk, Americana and rock n’ roll. 

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