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Like ‘a freshly uncaged animal,’ Amanda Shires comes to the Mystic

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: Amanda Shires in concert, with Lilly Hiatt

When: Sunday, Aug. 19, 8:30 p.m. (Doors open at 7:30 p.m.)

Where: The Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Boulevard.

Tickets: $18 general; $85 for meet-and-greet package.

Information and reservations: MysticTheatre.com.

Amanda Shires never knows quite what’s going to happen when she steps out on stage.

While the Texas-born musician’s recordings always exhibit a high degree of structural ingenuity and precision — especially her latest recording, the astonishingly emotional, superbly-crafted “To the Sunset,” a satisfying, wildly inventive musical sculpture of words, melody, emotion and thought — she admits that her stage performances are an entirely different experience, for her and her audience.

“Oh, I’m way different on stage than I am on my albums,” says Shires, calling up from a corner of her tour bus, currently rolling through Tennessee. This weekend, that same bus will be sliding into Petaluma, for a Sunday night performance at the Mystic Theatre, backed up by her band, and featuring Lily Hyatt (the daughter of famed singer-songwriter John Hyatt) as the opener. Shires, who was opening for Todd Snider the last time she was in town, is the main event now, and the fast-rising singer-songwriter-violinist is thoroughly convincing when she says she can’t wait to see what happens when she and Petaluma meet again on the stage of the Mystic. “A live show has a wildness about it, like a freshly uncaged animal, that you have to chase around the room,” she says. “Live music is a living thing, to me. There’s a moment, when you are playing, where the song actually comes alive. That’s when freedom of expression and improvisation come into play. When, it’s just, hold on everybody, anything’s possible now.”

Shires has been performing live for most of her life, and is adept on the ukulele as well as the violin.

Early on, having distinguished herself on the violin, Shires was recruited to play the fiddle with legendary Texas Playboys, and then joined the Lubbock, Texas alternative country-rock band, The Thrift Store Cowboys. She is married to Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, with whom she had a daughter, Mercy Rose, in 2015. She has played, recorded and toured with Isbell’s band The 400 Unit, and has recorded seven solo albums, beginning with 2005’s “Being Brave” — primarily acoustical, with a heavy violin influence. While pregnant with Mercy Rose, she wrote and recorded “My Piece of Land,” released in 2016. Last year, the American Music Association named Shires its Emerging Artist of the Year.

Opener Lily Hyatt, by the way, is among this year’s nominees for that same prize.

The new album, released earlier this month, is receiving strong critical praise, with many writers calling it one of the best albums of the years. Rolling Stone Magazine, after dropping a mention of the fact that Shires recently earned an MFA in creative writing from Sewanee University, said of “To the Sunrise,” “Her writing’s just gotten bolder, with arrangements that stretch the definition of ‘Americana’ to the point of meaninglessness.”

Asked if she writes her lyrics first and then build a melody to fit them, or the other way around, Shires takes second to answer, and when she does, it includes an explanation as to why she decided to get a degree in writing — an unusual path for a singer-songwriter-violinist.

“Well, if I’m lucky, the writing and the music both come at the same time, but that doesn’t always happen,” she allows. “So that’s when the work and the training and the experience and the learning come into play. I went to school so I wouldn’t have to be operating solely on instinct. And I’m just in love with language, and I want to use the right words and go about writing a song with intention. I think that studying your craft can’t do anything but good for you. So I do approach everything as a writer first, but I have different kinds of tools in my writer toolbox, and one of those tools is music.”

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Amanda Shires in concert, with Lilly Hiatt

When: Sunday, Aug. 19, 8:30 p.m. (Doors open at 7:30 p.m.)

Where: The Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Boulevard.

Tickets: $18 general; $85 for meet-and-greet package.

Information and reservations: MysticTheatre.com.

Writing a song, she continues, is a process of answering a hundred little questions, one after the other. One of those questions is whether to use the violin or the ukulele in composing and performing the piece.

“Sometimes the song just sings itself to you, and lets you know which instrument it wants to be played on,” she explains. “But whenever I’m writing and getting stuck, or I’m having trouble figuring out where the melody is going, or not going, I always pick up my violin, because it is a melodic instrument, and I know it like I know myself. I can usually get myself out of little plateaus, writing-wise, with my violin.”

That she’d use her violin to explore her way through the valleys and shadows of an unformed song is no surprise. On her recordings as well as in live performance, Shires’ violin playing carries so much raw power and expression, it frequently speaks as clearly and poetically as her gorgeously-crafted lyrics. There are times when Shires’ playing carries the same tender, stinging, wordless feeling and sheer musical muscle that Bruce Springsteen conveys with his spine-tingling wails at the end of “Jungle Land.” Her lyrics too — though often compared to the writing of Tom Waits — bears a similarity to Springsteen’s song-smithing, in the way she creates indelible characters, struggling to live and love and survive, who reveal themselves in aching, tuneful songs that play out like intimate short-stories constructed to pack a maximum wallop.

To Shires, “speaking” through her violin is entirely natural/

“I picked up the violin when I was so young,” she says. “It really was my first form of artistic expression. I didn’t have any real vocabulary for explaining life to myself, or picking my way through all the weirdnesses of life and growing up. So I learned to make the violin say things for me that I couldn’t say in words, or any other way. And I still do that, I guess. I’m glad that that there’s an expressiveness in my playing that communicates emptions that go beyond words. Hey, that’s what music is supposed to do, right?”