Though she’s been playing music more than half her life, it took a period of soul-searching and despair for Amanda Shires to find her voice. She breaks out in a big way with her fourth solo album, “Down Fell the Doves.”
After releasing her last album, “Carrying Lightning,” Shires went through a pretty rough patch. Her favorite fiddle was destroyed in an onstage accident, she broke her left ring finger in three places, and she ended a four-year relationship.
That darkness is channeled throughout the album. “Look Like a Bird,” “Devastate,” and “The Garden (What a Mess)” reflect the somber period in her life. Of course life wasn’t all bad leading up to the new album. Shires began dating and eventually married fellow musician, Jason Isbell, which is referenced on the touching waltz “Stay.”
Isbell lends his guitar playing, and the rhythm section from his backing band, the 400 Unit, to accompany Shires’ sparse songwriting. The music tends to be more atmospheric than traditional, anchored by the solid drum beats of Chad Gamble. And though she is an accomplished violinist, and her talents are showcased here, it’s Shires voice that runs the show on “Down Fell the Doves.”
An airy combination of Dolly Parton and Norah Jones, Shires vocals rises over the music like a bird taking flight. At times it’s fragile and light (“The Garden”, “A Song for Leonard Cohen”). Sometimes it’s a little rowdy (“Wasted and Rolling”) and occasionally ventures into higher registers (“Look Like a Bird”).
“Down Fell the Doves” shows Shires exploring broader musical territory than her previous material and coming into her own as a songwriter. The production by Andy LeMaster (Bright Eyes, R.E.M.) and the accompaniment by Isbell, Gamble and bassist Jimbo Hart certainly augments the album, but it’s merely the vehicle carrying this great collection of Shires’ melancholy and wonderfully self-reflective songs.