Amanda Shires’ music has always had a distinctive poetic vision and style that sets her apart from the average solo songwriters. On this new album To The Sunset she steps away from the acoustic sound of her last record to fully embrace the electric and unpredictable feel that was hinted at on some of her earlier releases. Working again with Americana super producer Dave Cobb these ten songs each feel like a vital progression of an artist who is reaching the pinnacle of her powers.
Opening song Parking Lot Pirouette perfectly captures the poetry in those moments that might seem ordinary on the outside but inside you’re spinning with the magnitude of love and life. Musically it’s raw and Shires’ vocals are stretched in a way that only makes their ragged beauty shine brighter. Swimmer is a reworking of a song from her old album Carrying Lightning, a perfect metaphor for the emotions we all have. The new version is filled with an energy and electricity the original lacked (this made me think that a few songs from My Piece of Land might benefit from a similar roughing up). Leave It Alone buzzes and hums with lust, those bees inside us swarming, that lead her to admit, I envy your clothes, how they get to be so close. These songs tell love stories in a visceral, vital way without ever falling into sentiment. As she sings we catch fire along with her.
After this heady, euphoric opening the album takes a more introspective turn with the first of the songs that deal with the theme of motherhood. Charms, like her older song Bulletproof, begins with Shires receiving a gift which sparks her songwriting. Here it is a bracelet from her mother, leading her to think about what you pass on to your children. We don’t get much time to dwell on her fears and uncertainty about motherhood since the album soon roars into garage rocker Eve’s Daughter. This is the life story of Shires’ mother but it really could be about any average woman’s life. We are all Eve’s Daughters – the struggles to find that happy ending drive us forward to the sunset, searching for a better tomorrow.
That song and Break Out The Champagne are the central pillars of this album, both so fucking good it’s hard to say anything else really except listen as loudly as you can. Shires convinces us just to embrace life, heartbreak, death, even the end of the world. Break out the champagne, everybody look out below / let’s get on with the shit show, she sings with rueful good humour. I really hope she can tour the U.K. with a full band so we can all raise a toast to the genius of these unabashed rock and roll songs.
The second half of the album doesn’t dip in quality for a second, with strong songs like Take On The Dark. This has a worldly wisdom in every moment, and the refrain of ‘it’s okay to fall apart’ becomes an epiphany of light. White Feather has some of the best lyrics on the album, with unusual images of scarecrows, water, diamonds, ravens. What most lyrics in modern music lack is that mixture of clarity and mystery which Shires, as a poet, is so good at.
Maybe the only misstep for me is Mirror Mirror and not because it’s a bad song or isn’t full of truths about women and how they compare themselves to each other in this crazed Instagram age, but I guess it’s just depressing to me to hear such feelings of insecurity expressed by someone who seems as confident as Shires. Or maybe that’s the point. She understands the internal demon we all can fall victim to, one who makes you believe things about yourself which are destructive and untrue. Maybe that’s why this song is placed immediately before the final song, which also looks at the hidden struggles people go through.
Wasn’t I Paying Attention was inspired by a true story her father told her about a friend. The story exposes the internal pain of everyday life which sometimes we don’t even notice. Suffering is everywhere. Sometimes you don’t know what’s going on inside someone’s head until it’s too late or maybe you just don’t want to know. I won’t reveal the end of the song but fair to say the album finishes on a moment so shocking it takes my breath away every time I hear it.
To The Sunset never lets up its intensity, right up that brutal last moment. Shires has the muse singing through her on this record like never before. Break out the champagne and drunk drown yourself in this record. The shit show never sounded so good.