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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March 1, 2023 @ 9:09 am
Currently making my day!
Immediately looked for vinyl and, as is the case with a lot of artists, it’s nowhere to be found. Any updates on the vinyl crisis or where to find Amanda’s?
March 1, 2023 @ 9:38 am
When it comes to completely independent artists like Amanda Fields, fans need to understand that vinyl is often a luxury they cannot afford. I have no idea of Amanda has any intention on printing vinyl. I’m sure she would love to. But you can spend a lot of money and time producing vinyl, but then you need the fans to purchase them.
It’s not just the vinyl shortage at the moment. We’re also in Record Store Day season. This is the time that major labels and bigger independents are strong arming manufacturers into doing boutique runs of vinyl products, and actual independent artists get pushed to the back of the line. As great as Record Store Day is allegedly for record stores, it has been debilitating on smaller artists and labels. May have an article coming up on this soon. It’s something that the 2023 Record Store Day ambassadors Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires should address. My guess is that they won’t.
March 1, 2023 @ 10:00 am
Thanks for the feedback. The independent artist situation makes total sense. I’d note that if you’re looking to financially support these artists you can often buy their digital albums via iTunes or Bandcamp. I did see Amanda Fields had an iTunes link.
For Record Store Day, do you think it may have been a positive prior to the current vinyl resurgence? At this point plenty folks have fallen back in love with vinyl, and getting people into stores likely isn’t (as) much of an issue.
March 1, 2023 @ 2:13 pm
FYI. On her own website it states “vinyl coming soon”.
March 1, 2023 @ 9:21 am
Alison Krauss vibes.
March 1, 2023 @ 9:40 am
You’re correct about the steel guitar and sleigh bells in “What a Fool.” Great sound.
March 1, 2023 @ 10:21 am
Wow, what a review…. I first saw Amanda playing bluegrass at Fat Bottom Brewery in East Nashville in 2015, and have been waiting for her to get noticed & heard far and wide. Feels like that’s happening now, with this exceptional album!
March 1, 2023 @ 3:23 pm
Here’s a good representation of Amanda’s bluegrass shows: https://youtu.be/argvXtCfWBo
March 1, 2023 @ 10:56 am
What a wonderful singer, l agree with the people who say she sounds like Alison Krauss, which is a very good thing. Here is hoping she has a very long career.
March 1, 2023 @ 12:20 pm
Very good. But another “sound-in-the-tunnel” offering. For the life of me I do not understand why current production does this. Maybe my hearing is going away. A bit less reverb for me. Nonetheless, this is good stuff.
March 1, 2023 @ 3:12 pm
One of the better written albums I’ve heard in a long time.
Sonically, I don’t think it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea, feels like it blurs some style lines of country and indie, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the product.
Features were very tastefully done, found myself going back to “Trail of Unforgiveness” a few times. So much to unpack in some of these.
“Running out of reason
Running out of time
Trying to build a world
Just to leave it all behind”
March 1, 2023 @ 7:52 pm
Well I guess I better drop everything and listen to this right now….I don’t ever remember seeing a rating this high.
March 2, 2023 @ 6:41 am
My thoughts exactly. Been quite a while I believe.
March 2, 2023 @ 3:54 am
thank you SCM for yet another great discovery!
I just watched that “southern” hick hop video and now i hear this and i’m like….WOW!
March 2, 2023 @ 6:06 am
Exactly–quite a contrast!!
March 2, 2023 @ 4:46 pm
This is music that soothes the soul. There is something in the waltz rhythm that to me is irresistible. Speaking of those every-once-in-a-while artists, I really wish that Juliet McConkey would give some sign that it won’t be one masterpiece of an album that drops out of nowhere and then that’s it for good. Maybe somebody knows of some signs that are not reaching this far across the ocean?
March 2, 2023 @ 5:22 pm
Juliet McConkey is a good comparison to Amanda Fields. Another devastating record, slow and sparse that got completely overlooked.
March 3, 2023 @ 3:58 pm
Yes, but where o where is that disappearing girl? 🙂
March 3, 2023 @ 9:24 am
Reminds me of when I first heard Charlie Marie
March 3, 2023 @ 9:57 am
This is spectacular. Pure country.
Bonus points for the Conway cover.
Have to think this will be high on the year-end “Album of the Year” lists.
March 4, 2023 @ 2:00 pm
Best record I have heard in a long time. The review is spot on.