Amanda Shires is not one to shy away from self-reflection. She chooses to bear witness through her songwriting in times when others would take paths of less risk, opting for privacy and ambiguity. Shires’ unwavering commitment to complication drives her fifth solo album, Take It Like a Man, which was released on July 29.
Produced by musician Lawrence Rothman, Take It Like a Man was written and recorded during a period of intense isolation: the pandemic lockdown. The early days of COVID-19 also coincided with challenging times in Shires’ marriage, an unfortunate combination that may feel all-too-familiar to anyone who has tried to safeguard a relationship during such desolate times. However, the strife gave way to some of Shire’s most vulnerable songwriting — and her most defiant.
Shires sings over a moody guitar on the title track, “I know the cost of flight is landing / And I know I could take it like a man.” She examines this “cost of flight,” as she describes it, again and again throughout the album.
“Empty Cups” is an aching portrait of how closeness can slowly retreat from a relationship until you’re suddenly bewildered by its absence. With lyrics like “You’re leaving now through the hole of an argument / I guess for awhile you’ve been looking for the exit / You slammed the door so hard I still hear rattling spoons / The sound of silence rings in every room,” she blends the plainspoken with the poetic and gets to the marrow of heartbreak.
Shires’ vulnerability is particularly brave given the high visibility of her marriage to fellow critically-acclaimed musician and songwriter Jason Isbell. In “Don’t Be Alarmed,” Shires implores him, “Stay right where you’re standing / Take it all in / At least be a witness / See it to the end.“ On the emotional crux of the album, “Fault Lines,” she makes her disillusionment transparent: “And the character you wrote yourself out to be / The flagship / All part of my fooling.” Although they may be initially jarring to some, these dispatches from their breaking point create a shake-up for the better, presenting Isbell and Shires as all the more human.
Isbell’s presence on the album reaches far beyond the lyrical subject matter. He co-wrote “Don’t Be Alarmed” and plays guitar on over half of the tracks — a fact that adds an extra layer of depth to the tracks.
For all the pain that Take It Like a Man carries, there are also glimmers of connection. “Stupid Love” swells with hopeful horns and drips with singing stars and moonlight while Shires sings of “staggering love.” Then, there’s the offering of hope on the piano-driven “Lonely at Night.” Shires’ voice region supreme as she asks, ”Could you just hold on and hope a little longer?“
We are left believing that the answer could be yes.
13 John Prine Lyrics That Prove He Wrote Like No One Else
Prine’s lyrical stories were both fantastical and simple; he wrote with a Midwest-bred honesty and humor that kept listeners on their toes. His catalog, spread over 18 albums, contains vivid stories (“Lake Marie”), insightful looks at the human condition (“Hello in There”) and sweet love songs (“Aimless Love”).
These 13 Prine lyrics — largely pulled from his songs’ choruses — are some of his very best: