Amanda Shires and the late Bobbie Nelson make beautiful music on “Loving You”

Amanda Shires and Bobbie Nelson are seated on a couch in a recording studio

Amanda Shires and Bobbie Nelson. Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

There is a simple, direct beauty to Bobbie Nelson and Amanda Shires’s Loving You that is breathtaking.

There’s inherent pathos in these 10 songs, a posthumous tribute to Nelson, who died in March 2022 at the age of 91. But Loving You is also a stirring testament to a pair of formidable forces in Texas music — Nelson, as well as the Grammy-winning Shires, a Lubbock native, singer-songwriter and fiddle player who cut her teeth in the Texas Playboys, before relocating to Nashville and performing with everyone from Chris Isaak to Todd Snider to Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (Shires married Isbell in 2013).

In 2021, Shires and Nelson met up at Austin’s Arlyn Studios — owned by Nelson’s son, Freddy Fletcher — and worked up a gorgeous version of “Always on My Mind.” (There is a moment where Shires’s voice breaks so beautifully it stands as one of the most incredible performances I’ve heard in the last decade.)

Nelson’s brother Willie turns up to contribute vocals on “Summertime,” but the record’s focus is largely on the interplay between Bobbie Nelson’s keys and Shires’s singing and playing — an exquisite, elegiac snapshot of two extraordinary artists engaging in mutual admiration and inspiration. The title track is an original Bobbie Nelson composition — the only song she ever wrote during a career which spanned more than 50 years.

Shires is performing a pair of concerts to support Loving You: July 8 at Dallas’ Longhorn Ballroom, and July 9 at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. She’ll be supported by Asleep at the Wheel on both dates. During a recent European tour, Shires graciously took time to answer a few of our questions via email. That exchange, which has been lightly edited, is below.

What most surprised you about the process of making the record with Bobbie?

Amanda Shires: “Escargot. She insisted I try it at dinner one night. I did not see that one coming. I was surprised by how easy it was to be in a room with her and how easy it was to make music together. She had a vast and encyclopedic knowledge of tunes. We played everything from ‘Red Wing’ to ‘The Wurlitzer Prize.’”

Did you feel as though the project was a reconnection, of sorts, with your Texas upbringing and your early days in the Western swing scene?  

Shires: “In some ways, but for the most part, we were making this record for the love of music and the love and joy of playing together. Me and Bobbie decided to start a duo (and call ourselves ‘The Leaky Hearts’), so we could play shows full of songs we love and also go shopping 😉. Well, we made this record (it’s timeless, gorgeous, and full of heart) and Amanda Shires does what she’s says she’s gonna do and she follows through. So, this is all for you, Bobbie. We miss you and will forever be Loving You.”

Do you feel Bobbie has received her due as a foundational figure in American music? 

Shires: “I don’t know. I don’t know if she knew how much her story meant to others. What I do know is that she was an inspiration musically, an inspiration in the art of forgiveness and love, and she modeled real strength and integrity as a woman.”

Are there lessons you learned while making Loving You you’ll carry forward into future recordings/collaborations?

Shires: “Yes. There are always things to learn and ways to grow. I think that’s what we are doing here on earth, growing and learning.”

Why was it important to you to collaborate with Bobbie? 

Shires: “Because my heart led me there. Anytime and anywhere my heart leads me in music, that’s where I go.”

What does it mean to you to perform these songs in a setting like the Longhorn Ballroom, with Asleep at the Wheel supporting you? 

Shires: “Honestly, I really wish Bobbie was here to perform the record we made together. I’m pretty sure we all do. I feel like we are all honoring the life of a truly wonderful musician and very great woman. I’m honored and feeling incredibly lucky and grateful to Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel for helping me out on this. It’s taken a lot to wrap my head around how to do this right in Bobbie’s absence. Bobbie meant the world to so many of us and we had the best time making music and this record, Loving You.”

What are you hoping listeners come away from Loving You thinking or feeling? 

Shires: “I hope folks hear the magic and heart in Bobbie’s playing. I hope folks feel the love that we have for these songs. I do also hope we may inspire some folks to learn to two-step or waltz.”

Amanda Shires & Asleep at the Wheel: A Celebration of Bobbie Nelson at Longhorn Ballroom, Dallas. 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $28-$68.

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.