Amanda Shires and Bobbie Nelson
Photo: Joshua Black Wilkes / BTPR

Amanda Shires and Bobbie Nelson Make Beautiful Country Music

Amanda Shires and Bobbie Nelson’s Loving You is a tribute to their talents and essential listening for piano-based country music fans and Americana listeners.

Loving You
Amanda Shires and Bobbie Nelson
Silver Knife / ATO
23 June 2023

Texan Bobbie Nelson has always been a masterful piano stylist. Her work with her brother Willie‘s band, the Family, showcased her considerable talents. Willie himself was always effusive in his praise of her skills. This wasn’t a case of nepotism. The impact her genius had on one of contemporary country rock’s best bands stood out positively. She could take you from a dusty dance hall floor to the front row at church to Broadway and back with nimble fingers and a deep sense of melody. Nelson died back in March 2022.

Before she died, Bobbie worked with the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Amanda Shires. Americana’s Shires has repeatedly acknowledged Nelson as a musical hero. The COVID pandemic and lockdowns made their recording difficult, but Shires and the record company have recently released the results posthumously. The result, Loving You, is wonderful!

Nelson’s piano playing is appropriately at the forefront on every track. She opens each song and sets the tone. They selected songs they knew from the past. These ranged from gospel (“Tempted and Tried” aka “Farther Along”) to classics from the Great American Songbook (“Dream a Little Dream”) to old country chestnuts (“Waltz Across Texas”) to Bobbie’s brother (“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”). By the way, that’s Bobbie’s Grammy-nominated producer and son, Freddy Fletcher playing the drums.

There is no grand theme presented. The music presents two marvelous artists having a good time playing familiar tunes. There is one original song, the title track, “Loving You”, Nelson’s three-and-a-half-minute solo piano composition. It’s the only such piece on Loving You. Nelson wrings deep feelings out of every note on her piano in this meditation about love. There’s soul and beauty in the music.

Shires masterfully sings and plays, and she’s a well-established artist in her own right. The two share a special kind of chemistry. Shires shows respect to Nelson by challenging her. Consider the moment on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” where Shires breaks down the vocals (“And the dreams / That you dared to dream / Really do come to true”) into articulate sobs of gratitude. Nelson understands the implications of the lyrics and manages to express beatitude (“That’s where you’ll find me”) through the keys. Together, they paint a complex picture out of what commonly gets conveyed as a cliché.

The duo repeatedly complement each other’s best musical features. They take the Willie tunes into places new, unexplored places. For example, Shires turns “Always on My Mind” into a womanly lament by breaking up the syllables and, with a quiver in her voice, sings,” Tell me, tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died / And give me, give me one more chance to keep you satisfied /’ll keep you satisfied”) while Nelson plays with a steady hand. Nelson’s determination shows grit. Shires expresses pain. Together, the mix of feelings at what might be the end of a love affair. The same is true of Shires’ fiddle playing and Nelson’s keyboarding on the instrumental portions.

Speaking of Willie, he joins the two on George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Willie’s version is well known (and Bobbie played on the classic version of that track). Willie and Amanda do a bouncy version on the vocals, but Bobbie is the star here. She swings the tune and keeps the action lively. The original may have had a dark side in Porgy and Bess, but this version of the lullaby has a leisurely charm.

As displayed in Loving You, Amanda Shires and Bobbie Nelson shared a profound connection. The result is a tribute to the artists’ talents and essential listening for piano-based country music fans and Americana listeners.

RATING 9 / 10