Disciplined and literary, Shires' latest is still a highly personal work.
Over the years, Amanda Shires has built a substantial resume recording and touring with the likes of Billy Joe Shaver, John Prine, Todd Snider, the Texas Playboys, Shovels & Rope, Justin Townes Earle, and husband Jason Isbell. However, she's also built a strong solo career of her own with five increasingly satisfying records, starting with 2007's Being Brave, on through 2011's Carrying Lightning and 2013's Down Fell the Doves. Her sixth and latest record, My Piece of Land, continues that upward trajectory, standing as one of 2016's best records.
In contrast to Down Fell the Doves, which showed flashes of absolute brilliance above and beyond what was already a package of consistently strong songs, My Piece of Land sounds like a more cohesive record. Part of that is probably due to Dave Cobb's sympathetic production, but the lion's share of the credit goes to Shires' strong vision for the album, which addresses issues of home and family -- although that's not always as comforting as it initially sounds. Album opener "The Way It Dimmed" is full of fire imagery and leaving, as is "Slippin'", in which Shires sings, "There'll be a trigger, then up starts the fire / A handful of matches, some faulty wiring / You'll say you have this hollow feeling / Something's always been missing / Tonight could be the night you go slippin' from me." With its mean guitar tone, violin screeches, and storm imagery, "My Love (The Storm)" hearkens back to Down Fell the Doves' "Devastate", although from a sunnier perspective. The mournful violin that kicks off "You Are My Home" speaks of pain preceding the relationship that the song praises (and gives the album's title a meaning beyond just the homesteads throughout Shires' songs). Longtime fans will recognize that she also revisits the home- and memory-drenched "Mineral Wells" (from 2009's West Coast Timbers), taking a few tasteful liberties with the original's unadorned acoustic-based arrangement.
When listening to My Piece of Land, it's hard not to think of Lisa Germano, another in-demand violinist who carved out her own unique solo career. While Shires doesn't venture into the same experimental waters as Germano, and certainly doesn't sound like she's exorcising demons in the same fashion, there's an impressive consistency of vision and purpose in Shires's work. For the past five years, Shires has pursued an M.F.A. in creative writing, and it shows in her songs. The stories and reflections on My Piece of Land obviously come from a personal place, but Shires's lyrics are literary, patient, and disciplined. As a result, My Piece of Land occupies that curious country/singer-songwriter middle ground where some of the most interesting roots/Americana/whatever music is being made. Pigeonhole it and label it if you need to, but My Piece of Land is a signature work that should satisfy fans of many genres.