Bet it ever so humble, there was no place like home for Amanda Shires, when it came to composing new music for her forthcoming “To the Sunset.”
But even there, the Texas-born songwriter, vocalist and violinist had to search out some solace in order to work. That’s because she shares the same dwellings with husband Jason Isbell, an amply-respected musician himself, and their two-year old daughter.
Isbell, Shires said, encouraged her to find whatever homebound quiet she could. Daughter Mercy Rose wasn’t quite so accepting of mom’s need for work space.
“I wrote a lot in the closet because everywhere else in the house is the toddler’s area,” said Shires, one of the main stage artists performing Saturday for the Master Musicians Festival in Somerset. “For me, it was just easier to work at home because I know where all the things are I need to write with. I know what’s in the refrigerator when I get hungry. The atmosphere at home doesn’t really change. It feels like a natural place, a safe place.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
“So the setting became my closet, because when I was playing in the rest of my house, my daughter would join me. One day, she will be a great musician, I’m sure. Right now, she doesn’t have a lot of experience with tempo. So I was talking to my husband and said, ‘I think the thing that I’m going to have to do is move into this closest.’ He was like, ‘Whatever it takes. You know what you have to do.’ So he would watch Mercy while I wrote. Besides, I noticed my closest was slightly soundproofed with all the shoes and sweatshirts and jeans and stuff around.”
While “To the Sunset” may have been home crafted initially, its final sounds may surprise longtime Shires fans.
With famed producer Dave Cobb again at the helm, the album’s 10 songs sport expansive pop frameworks full of synths, searing guitars and an arsenal of electronic embellishments for Shire’s violin playing. Such a modern blend also bolstered the potency of Shires’ singing, which wails with clarity and confidence on the album-opening “Parking Lot Pirouette.”
“Dave helped me make everything fit. Sonically, he helped translate. At the time, I found I was playing guitar more in my sets. I really liked that, but I prefer to play violin. It’s my primary instrument, the one that helped me express my feelings before I even had the vocabulary to do that. Dave helped me make more modern sounds. So we would play with the sounds of the violin through pedals and stuff and that became something that I really liked. It was the biggest translating help I could have asked for.”
“To the Sunset,” scheduled for release on Aug. 3, doesn’t represent all of Shires’ recording work for 2018. She is also featured prominently on “The Tree of Forgiveness,” the first album of new original songs in 13 years by the artist who will follow her set at the Master Musicians Festival this weekend: John Prine.
Shires is one of several new generation artists Prine has openly supported in recent years (Isbell and Kentucky’s own Tyler Childers are among the others). She also opened a sold out Singletary Center for the Arts performance by Prine in 2015.
“John is like a superhero,” Shires said. “I love how he can relate everyday details and use them to place his songs into motion just in terms of relatability. His use of rhyme scheme and wit are just unmatched, as is his honesty. He might just be the most honest songwriter we have, one that is not ashamed of how he feels, especially when he expresses himself through the characters in his writing. He’s always true to his characters and to the tone of the songs, even when he is writing about some really dark and sad things.
“He’s a role model to me just because of the person that he is. I mean, he’s all the things you want John Prine to be.”
On top of her own music, collaborations with Prine and motherhood, Shires is still, technically, a member of her husband’s band, the 400 Unit. She is part of the ensemble portrait on Isbell’s 2017 album, “The Nashville Sound,” although her onstage work with the group is understandably limited.
“Any time I’m available, I go out with Jason, and if he has a rare off day on the road, he plays with me. It’s our passion. We feel lucky all the time that we get to do something that we want to do and hopefully make new friends along the way. “I mean, I get to make the music I want to make and I don’t have to worry about going back to waiting tables. That’s a nice place to be.”
IF YOU GO
Master Musicians Festival
When: July 13 and 14
Where: Festival Field of Somerset Community College, 808 Monticello St. in Somerset
Here is the full lineup for the 2018 Master Musicians Festival
4 p.m.: LaMay and Reese
5 p.m.: Eric Bolander
5:30 p.m.: Bendigo Fletcher
6:30 p.m.: Bee Taylor
7 p.m.: Joslyn and the Sweet Compression
8 p.m.: Luna and the Mountain Jets
8:30 p.m.: The Dead South
10 p.m.: JD McPherson
Noon: Kentucky Americana Women Songwriters
1 p.m.: Dave Ernst and the Early Favorites
1:30 p.m. Grayson Jenkins
2:30 p.m.: Coby Langham
3 p.m.: Dawg Yawp
4 p.m.: John Clay
4:30 p.m.: Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound
5:30 p.m.: John R. Miller
6 p.m.: The Felice Brothers
7 p.m.: Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters
7:30 p.m.: Amanda Shires
8:30 p.m.: Magnolia Blvd.
9 p.m.: John Prine
10:30 p.m.: Reverend John and the Backsliders