Album Review: Amanda Fields – ‘What, When and Without’

From one debut to another, we have an unlikely slow-burn of a traditional country record from an artist who started in bluegrass, and has now since received acclaim from independent country critics for an album released a couple months ago. Granted, Amanda Fields made her official debut with a standalone single in 2019, so it’s not hard to guess why the past few years have caused a change in perspective (or potentially halted something further), nor is it that far-fetched of a switch; bluegrass can be just as aching and somber as traditional country, after all.

Of course, that’s exactly what you should come ready for with this project, which despite spanning only ten songs and running just a little beyond a half an hour feels purposefully draining in how carefully calculated and sprawling it runs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. Given that this is an album centered around heartache, it’s impressive just how willing Fields is to take her time with each composition, not only to let that atmosphere linger but also to allow room for the fuller details of each scenario to fluctuate. It’s often highly vulnerable and confessional in a way that can feel uncomfortable at points, but in a rewarding way. And while you will get a more straightforward track to open up the album like “What a Fool,” often this album is more complex, not just for Fields’ own sake but for her characters, too. “2 Steppin’” is a well-sketched portrait of two broken souls finding each other, but it doesn’t let audiences know what becomes of them; it’s more about their dance shared and them finding peace and happiness for just a little while, where regardless of whether they see each other again or not, it’s a fleeting moment that still matters.

And I really loved tracks like “Diamonds” and “Without You,” the former a divorce-centered track that focuses not only on healing trauma from the act itself, but also from shielding further blows dealt by family members who don’t approve of it, even despite it being out of her control; all the more fitting for an old-fashioned project that’s not willing to be archaic in its framing. The latter is also about healing trauma, this time from the aftermath of heartache that can feel oddly cathartic in how even-keeled its framing is, where Fields can even admit to how a lot of her own faults contributed to its ending, even if ultimately, she deserves to move on as well.

Now, for as much as I love the writing here, I will say that its pacing can start to feel more like an issue than a feature after a while, not helped by how much the compositions blend together without much in the way of instrumental variety. It also doesn’t help that there’s often a lot of unnecessary reverb softening and burying everything from the instrumentation to the vocals, which tries to cultivate artificial atmosphere that just comes naturally anyway, provided it gets the chance to cut through. Granted, for an album that relies very heavily on the waltz cadence and a copious amount of ghostly pedal steel to aid it, I can’t deny it doesn’t flatter Fields as a vocalist, who really does have a strikingly clear-toned, hypnotic quality to her delivery that suits the drawn-out presentation of this project.

If anything, it’s why the few moments that actually do aim differently and cut loose in “I Love You More Today” and “Moving Mountains” feel oddly off and dull. Though I will say “Trail of Unforgiveness” is an out-of-nowhere highlight, playing more to indie-folk territory with its willowy crescendos and ghostly swells and benefited all the more by both Ryan Culwell’s harmony vocal, and the philosophical musings of mortality, sin, and the meaning of life; “Mourning Dove” is another track in this vein, albeit framed as more of a comedown to the previous track, and it’s a lane I wouldn’t mind hearing Fields expand upon in future projects. It’s a tough album to confront and sit with – due, oddly enough, to both its strengths and weaknesses – but this has grown on me over time; it’s worth the time to let it settle.

  • Favorite tracks: “Trail of Unforgiveness” (feat. Ryan Culwell), “2 Steppin’,” “Diamonds,” “When I Met You,” “Mourning Dove,” “Without You”
  • Least favorite track: “I Love You More Today”

Stream the album.

3 thoughts on “Album Review: Amanda Fields – ‘What, When and Without’

  1. I heard one of her songs on a Hurtin’ For Real episode a while back and I liked what I heard, but I haven’t got around to listening to the album until I saw that you reviewed it. I was hooked from the beginning and I think it’s fantastic.

    Interestingly, Trail of Forgiveness and Mourning Dove were the two songs that I didn’t connect with as much as the others and I Love Your More Today might be my favourite song here; I think we both really liked this album, but with different highlights.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, hey, that happens sometimes. Just glad you checked out the full project and liked it!

      Also will echo the Hurtin’ For Real love as well – I love independent radio shows like that, and it’s always a great listen!


      1. Yes, I discovered it a few years ago (turns out he’s located not too far from me). It’s always a good listen and I’ve made plenty of new discoveries from his shows.

        Liked by 1 person

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