(Silver Knife/Thirty Tigers, out Fri 3 Aug 2018)
When Americana lyricist Amanda Shires announced her latest project in May, it was described as featuring an “edgier sound and attitude” in its exploration of addiction, mental health and self-esteem from a woman’s perspective. With that in mind, it was inevitable that people would question how edgy Americana can truly be. However, Shires’ new album To The Sunset throws all preconceptions out of the window in what is a powerful, rock and roll-inspired album that maintains the multi-instrumental artist’s penchant for poetic and evocative story-telling.
To The Sunset begins with the slow yet powerful Parking Lot Pirouette, throughout which Shires’ haunting vocals emphasise the morose feel of the track, while being perfectly accompanied by Peter Levin’s harmonious keyboard. However, the album quickly takes a more upbeat route with the return of Swimmer from Shires’ 2011 album, Carrying Lightning. The track is welcome and allows Shires’ background as a violinist to emerge and provide a country feel to the affair.
Leave it Alone, the first single from the album, continues this tonal shift with a song that seems oddly reminiscent of R.E.M, providing a soft-rock vibe with vocals akin to Stevie Nicks. This is a feeling that continues with Eve’s Daughter, a deeply personal story of Shires’ mother, and one of the album’s many highlights. It’s a surprisingly heavy track and demonstrates the versatility of Shires, the accompanying artists, and Americana as a genre. The same can be said of Take On The Dark, which is a fun rock track with a pervasive bassline, and both Break Out The Champagne and White Feather. Although they feel a bit more traditional, the tracks still maintain the rock vibes that make the album standout.
However, not all songs are to this calibre; Charms is a pleasant acoustic song but is quickly forgotten. Similarly, Mirror Mirror is deeply atmospheric and poetic but never quite reaches the same success of Shires’ earlier songs. This is more than made up for by Wasn’t I Paying Attention?, which is a narrative tour-de-force with bluesy overtones and an incredibly catchy chorus. All of this builds to a startlingly poignant ending that addresses important mental health issues which are best left to be discovered by the listener.