July 14, 2024

AMANDA SHIRES & BOBBIE NELSON – ‘LOVING YOU’ – “performed with a purity of heart”

SILVER KNIFE / ATO RECORDS    23rd June 2023

It can be a fine line between schmaltz and authenticity, with country music being a field where the line is thinnest. For me, the dividing line is defined by authenticity of emotion and purpose. Are resources marshalled to the service of the song, not the marketplace? I’m pleased to say this falls on the right side and, given the big ballads here, that’s just as well. It is all too easy to make songs like ‘Always On My Mind’ into kitsch by trying (and failing) to ape Elvis. Instead, arrangements here are simple and songs are based on piano and a simple band with light use of strings for harmony assist. That’s not a surprise, Bobbie Nelson, who died, at 91, only a few months after recording this, played piano in Willie Nelson’s (her brother), touring band alongside her solo career. Her piano is strong and an eloquent voice. Equally, her brother had a knack for direct, almost haiku-like songs and appears here on a guest spot.

Willie turns up on ‘Summertime’, which gets a lovely country stride, leads on piano and has a walking bass. It works, which is a challenge, given its ubiquity. They are almost all well-known songs, selecting favourites of the duo. Willie Nelson’s ‘Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground’ manages to use their own phrasing and reminds me of the loveable brevity of Nelson’s songs (chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus). It is heartfelt and soppy yet, performed with a purity of heart, it is a real expression and not a soupy sob-fest. ‘Waltz Across Texas’ is a charming opener. ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ rides firm on piano. Better, perhaps, minus the strings but you can’t have everything. The perennial closer, Over The Rainbow is a great exemplar of simplicity and individual interpretation  simple but distinctive. Nearly up there with Gene Vincents version (!)

Amanda’s voice is expressively ‘down home’ and unaffected, with a wonderful country music warble. The piano is a voice of its own and there are instrumentals too, adding up to a delightful set of reinterpretations of a great collection of classic songs.

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