October 12, 2013 by Jay Minkin
I am a music junkie. Yes, I admit that I have an addiction. I have an appetite for new music and cannot get enough of it. So when I go to Nashville, it is the mother lode of Americana records and compact discs from artists that are hard to come by in Northeast Ohio. I usually go shopping several times and to multiple places. When I said to myself that I would curtail my habit during my annual visit for the Americana Music Association conference … I still brought home a pot of gold. Well trading in some pre-loved CD’s and finding some gems at Grimey’s Americana-rama flea market helped offset some of the cost. So if you put it in my warped perspective, instead of a boy’s trip gambling money away in Vegas or on multiple rounds of greens fees at Hilton Head, I’m supporting small businesses and artists with hours and hours … and hours of listening enjoyment.
That leads me to the last night of the AMA music marathon. It’s a roll of the dice as to which showcase venue and group of artists to take in over the four night festival. There are times when either your favorites are performing at the same time or there are folks whose work you just haven’t been exposed to. Prior to the drive down, I had Amanda Shires circled on my list for Saturday night at The Basement, maybe the smallest venue of the AMA showcase hosting clubs. Not sure if I had heard anything from her new release Down Fell The Doves, so I could not have picked a more fitting way to close out my road trip. The words to describe her performance were that passion dripped from her phrases. There was a soft, almost tearful emotion as Shires sang through her short set list. A sardine like capacity crowd was treated to her ukulele and fiddle playing on the beautiful acoustic “The Drop and Lift,” a dreamy composition about meeting the legend and sticking him with the bar tab in “A Song for Leonard Cohen,” and the radio friendly single “Wasted and Rollin’” from the new record. Shires took care of the folks who have been following her from west Texas to Nashville with “When You Need a Train It Never Comes”, “Swimmer” and “Shake the Walls” from 2011’s Carrying Lightning. The song that really sold me and the rest of the crowd was “Bulletproof” as Shires introduced the song with a story about meeting a fellow named Tiger Bill at a show in Tampa, Florida.
Amanda didn’t have any CD’s with her that night to sell after the show, but she was a sweetheart taking time to chat with me as I was gushing about her performance. She suggested I ask Mike Grimes to open the store, located upstairs above The Basement, but I said I would order one online as I was driving back to Ohio early the next morning. So I decided to go big … and I purchased a vinyl copy.
Placing it in on my vintage Technics SL-1300, a slow beat back country foot stomper with an edgy fiddle groove called “Look Like A Bird” literally took me back to Nashville. The album takes off from there with one of the other beautiful hit singles called “Devastate”. Shires backing band is not too shabby as husband Jason Isbell lays down some great lead guitar riffs along with members of his backing band Jimbo Hart (bass) and Chad Gamble (drums) from The 400 Unit. Produced and engineered by Andy LeMaster, Shires voice sings true throughout the eleven track album recorded at his Chase Park Transduction studio in Athens, Georgia. Chad Fisher plays trombone did the horn arrangements on tracks on the ballad “Stay” included Joel Gransden on trumpet and Brad Guin on tenor sax giving it a Muscle Shoals feel. The rest of the album shines with another beautiful ballad “If I”, the dark depression numbers “Box Cutters” and “Deep Dark Below”, and the gorgeous closing number “The Garden Song”, where Shires shines on vocals along with her fiddle playing lead instrument on a song about picking up the pieces of a heart breaking romance.
It has been a storybook year for Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell. The couple married on February 23rd and Southeastern was released in June from Isbell which has continued to top the charts and garner rave reviews (see my Liner Notes from May). Make no mistake, Shires latest release will also be mentioned when the year-end list of favorites from 2013 are tallied. It may not be fair to dub them the “Royal Couple of Americana”, but they definitely will need to build a bigger mantle to hold all the hardware.