Album Review – Amanda Fields – “What, When and Without”

Every once in a while, an album or artist comes along, and it only takes a song or two, or maybe even a minute or two of the first song before you to start asking, “Where have you been all my life?” Amanda Fields is one of those artists, and What, When and Without is one of those albums, even if it’s a bit ironic because so much of this album is about love lost. It’s still very early in the calendar of course, but this feels like one of those albums we’ll be discussing for the rest of 2023, and beyond.

Devastating you with slow waltz-timed songs exquisitely produced and written, carried forward on conscientious and deliberate instrumentation, and delicately but confidently delivered by the immediately mesmerizing voice of Amanda Fields, all of this conspires to make What, When and Without feel immediately essential. What can you expect from this album? Think of the most heartbreaking, most emotionally roiling standards from the classic country era sung by Tammy Wynette and similar artists, only rendered in new original compositions. This is the promise that is delivered upon on What, When and Without.

In fact, this is one of those albums that you almost cannot believe is composed of new songs as opposed to old classics, compelling you to check the track details to confirm. How could have nobody else so cuttingly and conclusively encapsulated the feelings surrounding the conclusion of love that you once believed was eternal as Amanda Fields so expertly does in the song “Diamonds”? If it had been released in 1967, Amanda’s “2 Steppin'” would be a bona fide Golden country classic today.

And though most of this album is slow, somber, and understated, “Moving Mountains” adds just a little bit of honky tonk influence into the mix to give the album some body and tempo. Nobody, nobody has as deftly exploited the under-utilized emotional catalyst of the waltz beat in recent years better than Amanda Fields and her producer Megan McCormick have done here.

This is all a bit unusual when you consider the Amanda Fields origin story. Classic country singing and songwriting was always there, but is not exactly what she has been known for heretofore. Fields primarily comes from the bluegrass discipline. Originally from Southwest Virginia and the Appalachian region, she grew up playing guitar and singing in the Pentecostal church. Moving to Nashville when she was just 18, she naturally fell into the bluegrass circles, and according to peers, has paid more dues than anyone since.

Amanda released a bluegrass single in 2019 called “Brandywine” in what was supposed to be the start of a hopefully illustrious solo career in the bluegrass subgenre. But it’s hard to second guess the extended pause and the re-emergence as a traditional country artist from what is captured on What, When and Without. Songwriters Ryan Culwell, Cruz Contreras known best for The Black Lillies, and producer Megan McCormick also make appearances.

It might be fair to raise concerns that when taken in totality, What, When and Without is perhaps a little too slow and understated to grip an element of an audience that is unwilling to be patient and attentive. But when the steel guitar comes lilting in at the 2 1/2 minute mark of the opening song “What A Fool,” and sleigh bells are smartly and subtly placed behind it, it speaks to the kind of love and care that was brought to Amanda’s stories. Sure, it may be slow, but it’s hard to not argue that this approach was ideal for this material.

What, When and Without leaves little or nothing else to scrutinize. Every note feels so carefully and correctly placed, and intentional. Even if it may not appeal to your sensibilities, it’s hard to not appreciate what has been accomplished here. What, When and Without is also one of those releases that runs the risk of getting lost in the shuffle of the crush of new music these days. But for those that happen upon it and open their hearts to it, they’ll be more than happy that they found Amanda Fields and What, When and Without.


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