Amanda Shires has released her album “For Christmas” right on time for the holiday season! You can stream the album here. The project is her first solo album since 2018. Shires has been balancing a lot of emotions surrounding the holiday season as she didn’t get to see many of her family members due to COVID and there was a lot she liked about that. She was thinking how fun Christmas this year would be and then she thought about losing folks to the pandemic like John Prine, “I don’t know if I can go into this thing listening to the same Christmas tunes that we’ve heard a thousand times and I wanted to make an album that I’d like to hear”. Shires worked closely with the late John Prine over the course of her career. She toured with him in 2017 and 2018, contributed to his 2018 “Tree of Forgiveness” album, and was a close friend. “John loved Christmas. On tour he would buy ornaments or start humming Christmas tunes around June and was really into it”. The day before we spoke with Amanda, she held an album listening livestream over YouTube with John’s wife, Fiona Whelan Prine. “Fiona just texted me and said “would you like to play for me in John's office with his Christmas trees” because he left his trees up all year long and I said “hell yes” without realizing we both had so much to unpack. In the spirit of bringing john Prine’s [spirit] and Christmas into the world, it was wonderful getting Fiona’s blessing.” You can rewatch the livestream here.
The album is emotion filled, with both upbeat and slower songs, and even a chilling rendition of “Silent Night”. The album opens with “Magic Ooooooh” and says it’s Christmas Time in June. it’s about that new love feeling or any happy feeling really, it feels like oh! It’s Christmas! “Magic Ooooooh” was written with Brittany Spencer who Shires praises as a “wonderful singer, musician, guitar player and songwriter”. Spencer is also a writer on another song on the album. On her weary “Silent Night” rendition, Shires reflects by saying “Sometimes you just feel dark and gloomy, but the plus side is when you sing them out loud it gives them much less power and then you find a community people who feel the same way and then you suddenly have a community of people who are happy that they all felt the same way. Naming the beast always helps”. Another song on the record “Blame It on The Mistletoe” sounds like it could be a Highwomen Christmas song. The Possibility of a Highwomen Christmas album? Shires thinks a Highwomen Christmas album in the future would be a great idea. She wants them to do a LIVE record since they didn’t get to play last year. “Let’s go play some shows and record them and put a live record out. That’d be awesome.”
It's now been just over two years since Highwomen album came out. To Shires, “it feels like a confluency of energies, not just ours but everybody that paid attention and wrote about it and noticed it and are aware. Folks like (writer) Marissa Moss. It just feels like all of us all together in this industry have made some headway (on gender representation in country music) and there will always be the Highwomen as long as those conversation need to happen, but I do feel like the intention of the group and the results of the group were what we wanted”. Amanda and The Highwomen have been a part of some of the coolest and most important moments in country music like being the first all female headliner at the Newport Folk Festival in 2019. One moment that stands out for Shires is when Mavis Staples was listening to one of the songs that they wrote “and she adjusted a line we wrote “I was freedom rider” and she changed it to “I was a freedom fighter” and even when I say it out loud, It’s huge”.
While the group is made up of the 4 most powerful women in country music (Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Shires) it is without a doubt, a supergroup. Shires, being the founder of the group, does not think of it as a supergroup. “I don’t think of it as a super group very much because I feel like the ideas of the art are observations. I just keep myself open and do my best. I realize how much of a small part I play in this and I realize how many more hands and parts it takes to make a difference. It takes more than an idea to get someone from a seed to a tree”. The Americana and Grammy award winning artist says that she does see more female engineers, and side persons in bands and sees that part changing. As far as producers, “I think we’re still working on that part. It’s all about making room and it comes from the top”. As what is next for The Highwomen, Shires hopes to get a live album out and then a full-length album sometime after that but “all the ladies have albums out and folks have to tour and it’s tough to play outside in winter”. Shires concludes by saying “I can’t believe I get to do this for my job – that was my dream as a youth – to be doing it doesn’t matter where I live or who I run into every morning it's like “I’m still doing this, I must not have woken up from the dream”.
For more information on Amanda Shires, check out her website.