Amanda Shires: review of Take It Like a Man – reinventing the strong country | Music
AManda Shires has long strived to bring complexity about gender into a conservative genre. A staple of the Nashville country music scene since leaving her native Texas in 2004, she broke through with 2016’s intimate observation My Piece of Land, reflecting on her pregnancy and the bittersweet realities of stay-at-home parenting. In 2019, she co-founded country supergroup The Highwomen alongside Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby as a direct response to their frustrations with country rock radio ostracizing women. Along with her demands for greater racial and gender inclusion in the genre, she has also been outspoken on the issue of abortion, most notably with The Problem, a 2020 duet on the subject with musician husband Jason Isbell (re-recorded since as Our Problem with a notable guest cast: Cyndi Lauper, Angie Stone, Linda Perry, Peaches). Although fans heralded her as a country punk artist, for Shires her progressive stance actually comes, as she told an american magazine“Who the fuck needs a career if we have no rights over our bodies?”
Shires’ seventh album might just be her biggest “fuck it” moment yet, driven by a desire to present a powerful and multifaceted image of femininity. It is the one that she largely fills. Opener Hawk for the Dove subverts music that sounds like old-school film music by pushing back on outdated norms of female sexuality. Shires, 40, recently told an interviewer that she wanted to prove that women her age can be “more than just a character in someone else’s life”; here she sings with raunchy assurance, “Come on, put the pressure on me / I won’t break.” Elsewhere, it is his powerful voice that affirms his strength. On the title track, Shires digs deep to release a chorus that swells with each heavy, determined repetition: “I know the cost of flight lands / But I know I can take it like a man,” she sings in an epic crescendo that nods to Queen.
It’s thrilling, and with indie-pop producer Lawrence Rothman on hand, his lively, intentionally raw violin playing is well-balanced with the expressions of his softer side, seeming to draw inspiration from peers blazing trails beyond. beyond the traditional boundaries of the country. Stupid Love’s warm Motown horns channel the playfulness of Kacey Musgraves, while Lonely at Night’s easy-listening, mournful but soulful sharing a kinship with Adele’s 30. Empty Cups is pure Dolly Parton, and makes up for its predictable melody with well-turned couplets worthy of a soap opera: “You’re now coming out through the hole of an argument / I guess you’ve been looking for the exit for a while”, she sings. Backed by her Highwomen bandmate Morris on guest vocals, it’s a scorching breakup song of diverging paths, rich in storytelling lore.
In her protracted attempt to prove that the roles of wife, wife, and mother need not be normative, Shires sometimes exaggerates her point. Here He Comes aims to make sassy eyes roll over an unpredictable lover, but its chorus is uninspired, simmering to a cheesy mid-tempo beat. Bad Behavior relies on the same sinful-luxurious dynamic that many of her sexiest songs employ, but the discordant trap-rap mumbles in the middle distract from the raunchy, mischievous tone of her voice as she teases a sorry-not-sorry one-night stand: “Maybe I like strangers / What if I do?” Fault Lines is just as direct, but much more surprising. Exploration of a difficult time in her marriage, with startling honesty and striking simplicity, capturing her psychological storms during a moment of doubt: “You could say it’s all my fault / We just couldn’t get along hear / And if someone asks me I’ll say what’s true / And really it’s: I don’t know She alludes to a resolution on Stupid Love: “You were smiling so much you kissed me with your teeth / I thought: long live the unknown machine.”
If there’s anything to remember, it’s that feeling of embracing the “unknown machine” of life. Sometimes overzealous but always sincere, Shires subverts the idea of “taking it as a man” as mechanical strength or stoicism. While there is toughness and discernment here, it is also captivatingly vulnerable as it unapologetically addresses how a person’s whims, desires and autonomy can fluctuate throughout of a life. Rather than a source of fear, she embraces each of these risks and character-building opportunities ahead. “You could be my downfall,” she sings on Stupid Love. “I lean on it.”