Album Review – Bobbie Nelson & Amanda Shires – “Loving You”

photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

This somewhat unexpected but quite agreeable pairing of Bobbie Nelson and Amanda Sires results in an album of classic country songs and pop standards that is a perfectly delightful listen. Most importantly though, Loving You is demonstrably effective at exposing the stellar attributes of these two women of music in their most unmistakable and elemental form, unarguably endearing their legacies to a favorable regard in the present and future tense.

According to her brother, Bobbie Nelson was always the real musician of the Nelson clan. Where Willie’s style has always been a sort of an impromptu and unscripted variation of “flying by the seat of your pants,” sister Bobbie was the one with deep musical knowledge and compositional prowess, putting purpose behind her playing. Born on New Years Day, 1931, she would spend nearly 80 years playing piano for her brother among other pursuits, and frankly, unfairly overshadowed by Willie’s towering legacy that entire time.

Though Amanda Shires is mostly synonymous with contemporary Americana veering into the pop and rock realm these days, those who’ve followed her career know she started in music as a fiddle prodigy from Lubbock that was an official member of the Texas Playboys, and played with all kinds of Texas music legends on her way up. This included Billy Joe Shaver who convinced Shires to move to Nashville and develop her career as a singer and songwriter.

Amanda Shires first saw Bobbie Nelson performing on stage with Willie Nelson when she was 16. Seeing a woman up there with all the guys helped give Shires the inspiration to continue her music career in what was very much a man’s world. Fast forward to more recent history, Amanda wanted to record a version of “Always On My Mind” for a recent album, and wanted to include Bobbie Nelson as part of the recording session. Once they were in the studio together, magic ensued, and stopping at just one song seemed irresponsible.

The Amanda Shires version of “Always On My Mind” with Bobbie Nelson crowns this Loving You collaboration, with Shires turning in a shiver-inducing tour de force studio performance, justifying this album if nothing else does. “Summertime” also sells Shires the vocalist, with Willie making an appearance as well, even if he recently recorded the same song for his Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin tribute.

It’s fair to say that the song selection of Loving You is a rather pedestrian mix of the classic country/classic pop commonly found in the Willie Nelson universe. “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” makes an appearance. “Waltz Across Texas” and “Over The Rainbow” are somewhat predictable selections. The songs for the album were selected with both Bobbie and Amanda giving their feedback.

What is indisputable is that each selection is a rather spectacular display of these two women’s talents. Bobbie’s playing paired with Amanda’s singing results in sweet harmony, and Amanda’s fiddle work also codifies certain critical moments, though her divisively scratchy and purposely dissonant style makes an appearance in the middle of “Summertime” to questionable results.

Loving You is a great album for putting on and leaving playing in the background. And when these versions of “Always On My Mind” or “Over The Rainbow” hit you when you’re in the right mood—perhaps when the sky is turning red in the evening, or when the blood alcohol level makes you sentimental—they can be quite intoxicating.

Bobbie Nelson passing away on March 10th, 2022 at the age of 91 puts the importance of this album into even sharper focus, and instills a poignancy behind the moments it captures, especially the two instrumental tracks near the end. The emergence of Loving You in this moment really helps underscore why Bobbie Nelson should be regarded as way more than just Willie Nelson’s sister, and why Amanda Shires is much more than just Jason Isbell’s wife.


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