You have to give Amanda Shires credit. Raising a child, playing with husband Jason Isbell's band the 400 Unit and still maintaining a solo career is no easy task. Simply keeping the family bond when both partners go their separate ways on tour is hard enough, but for Shires, who has successfully pried herself out from under the shadow of her famous husband, it was likely even harder still.
Nevertheless, Shires has reaped her rewards on her own terms. Accorded kudos as Emerging Artist of the Year at last year's Americana Awards, she's clearly come into her own. An early succession of solo outings proved that she's more than capable of seizing the spotlight, and so it ought to come as little surprise that "To The Sunset" fully confirms her prolific prowess.
An album that finds her revelling in a series of tangled emotions, it demonstrates not only her versatility, but also a confidence and creativity that takes her to new heights. Its eerie opening track, "Parking Lot Pirouette" sets the scene, but its the kinetic "Leave It Alone," the rowdy pair "Eve's Daughter" and "Take on the Dark," and the rousing revelry that enlivens "Break Out the Champagne" that offer exacting evidence on Shires' tone and temperament. She's clearly unafraid to let her passion show, and indeed, if there's any lingering doubt about that notion, the determined drive of "White Feather" ought to dispel it entirely.
Ultimately, "To The Sunset" becomes a new plateau in a career that's grown steadily and assuredly since the start. Indeed, its importance ought to grow over time given its unabashed enthusiasm and its unabashedly seductive set-up. Her hubby had better heed this warning; his freewheeling fiddle player may not remain available for very long.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles.