Amanda Shires is a solo recording artist, but she’s not alone when making music. The singer/songwriter/violinist routinely bounces sonic ideas off her husband, Americana’s critical darling Jason Isbell.
The four-time Grammy winner is a huge help for Shires.
“It’s great to have someone like Jason with me, since he is an exceptional songwriter,” Shires said by phone from her Nashville home. “He gives me good feedback.”
But it’s a two-way street since Shires, 36, sounds off when the venerable Isbell, 39, is working on his songs.
“We’re all about working with each other,” Shires said. “We get into debates over words and usage. That’s the only thing we fight about. We’ll make fun of each other if one of us writes a trash lyric. I’ll tell Jason that something isn’t going to work because I don’t buy the character because of the tone. He’ll smile at me and say, ‘I’ll think about that’ and then he’ll make the change. The truth is that his songs don’t usually need a thing. But he helped me with this album.”
“To The Sunset” is Shires’ latest release and coming out party. After spending much of the past decade in the shadows while backing up such luminaries as Chris Isaak, Justin Townes Earle and her better half.
“I have no regrets about that,” she said. “I learned so much and had such a great time with everyone I worked with. But it’s time for me to move in another direction.”
Shires, who will perform Friday (9/21) at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, doesn’t adhere to a particular genre. She veers from country to folk to pop and rock.
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“I like different types of music,” she said. “I opened things up with this album, but there’s the same old focus on lyrics. Words are very important to me.”
That’s evident. Shires, who earned an MFA in Poetry from Sewanee: The University of the South in 2017, is adept at penning poignant and clever couplets.
“I try my best to not just avoid cliches but to write with some meaning,” Shires said. “It helped my lyric writing so much studying poetry. I thought I knew what poetry was before I immersed myself in it. Poetry is meditative. It’s reflective. What I write is more meaningful than what I wrote 10 years ago. I tell stories, but I think I tell them in a fresher manner.”
One of the finest songs from “To The Sunset” is the amusing “Break Out the Champagne,” which was inspired by a flight from Dallas to London.
“We lost an engine over the Newfoundland Sea,” Shires said. “They took away our drinks. I thought we were going to die, but I didn’t panic. I turned the crazy experience into a song. The great thing about being a songwriter is that you can turn every experience into a song.”
The constant in Shires’ life always has been her violin, which functions as an instrument and security blanket.
“I know some kids don’t like playing their violin, and I get it, since so much practice is required,” she said. ”The violin has always been important for me. My mom was a single mom and we moved around a lot, and so the violin was always the one constant I had. I always feel better when I had my violin. Playing it is cathartic. I expressed myself with it then, and I express with it now. I have my violin and I also have Jason. I’m fortunate to have my music and my husband, who has helped me get to another level as a musician.”
When she isn’t in the studio or on the road, she gardens in her backyard.
“When I’m outside gardening, it can be so inspiring,” she said. “I think of words and melodies. It’s peaceful. Every singer-songwriter should find something outside of music that makes them as happy as gardening makes me.”
WHAT: Amanda Shires, with Leah Blevins opening
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (9/21)
TICKETS: $25 and $85 VIP, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Amandashiresmusic.com