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Amanda Shires

My Piece of Land – 2016 (Silver Knife)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Amanda Shires

After four albums on her own and one with her frequent touring/recording partner Rod Picott, it seems safe to assume that Amanda Shires would have a fairly secure handle on the process. But when the time came to begin writing material for a new album, Shires was well into her first pregnancy and housebound while husband Jason Isbell was on the road. Rather than reflecting marital security and maternal contentment, the songs that flowed from Shires' creative consciousness focused on doubt, anxiety and conflicting emotions.

After the birth of her daughter, Shires and her stacked deck of Nashville talent (Isbell, producer Dave Cobb, bassist Paul Slivka, drummer Paul Griffith) transformed the brilliantly moody and insightful songs into the slim yet powerful "My Piece of Land."

Fueled by strong emotions and a bittersweet melancholy, and informed by her poetry post-graduate work, Shires created a resonant set that perfectly frames her uncertainty while still shining a light into its dark corners. The Marty Robbins-tinged Tex-Mex folk of album opener "The Way It Dimmed" makes its point about problematic love in a brisk two-plus minutes, which is followed by "Slippin'" and the resignation of its chorus, "Tonight could be the night you go slippin' away from me." Shires' Dolly Parton-meets-Emmylou Harris warble is fully displayed on the laconic heartstring pull of "Harmless," while her more subtly aggressive feelings come to the fore on the galloping "When You're Gone."

But the album packs its best punches at the end of the bout, with the gospel hymn of "I Know What It's Like" ("I know what it's like to want to give up on life...") and the gutsy closer, the darkly optimistic "You Are My Home," that swaddles its ultimately uplifting realization in a gloomy arrangement that finds Shires' violin keening as though she's battling Charlie Daniels' devil for her soul. Although the album is short at just under 35 minutes, "My Piece of Land" never feels half-done; the album is appropriately stripped and unburdened by artifice or veneer with Shires' emotions and vocal translation of them in the soft spotlight.