Singer and fiddler Amanda Shires is a long time alumnus on the Texas music scene. I say ‘long time’ because she started playing with Tommy Allsup and the Texas Playboys at the age of 16 and has played with her alt-rock side band, The Thrift Store, and other known musicians including Billy Joe Shaver and Will Kimbrough for years. Still in her 20s, “West Cross Timbers” is her latest solo CD and it is neither a fiddle album nor a Texas swing romp, but is instead a collection of all original songs that fit firmly into the Americana music label.
Some of the cuts on this project will be an acquired taste. Yet I give Shires credit for not going the easy route and producing an album of safe music. Along with co-producers David Henry and Rod Picott, Shires brings a sparse sound to the table. That can lead to borderline self indulgent story songs such as the song “Mariann Leola.” But the sparseness works on most of other the songs here, bringing the listener an atmospheric slice-of-life sound that shoots for uniqueness.
One highlight on this album is the song “I Kept Watch Like Doves.” It starts with the sounds of birds in the trees and then kicks in with a steady light percussion along with guitar and bass on top. Then begins the vividly dark story about the protagonist watching her man cheating with another woman out in nature. After she sees the deed, she beats him back to the house and waits as he returns, “glowing, you brought in the mud like nothing’s wrong.” As the wronged woman proceeds to get the upper hand in the conversation, “I poured chloroform into his scotch, I held up the belt he thought he lost,” she then offers up honesty in exchange for lethality as the birds continue to sing outside. Haunting and descriptive, I’ll let you hear how it all ends yourself.
Another thing I like about this CD is that it is self-contained, with no outside guest musicians brought in to muck it up and interfere with the feel of it. The other musicians include co-producers Henry and Picott on keyboards and guitars respectively, as well as Paul Slivka on bass, Steve Byam on steel guitar and Rich Malloy on drums. There are also songs where Shires picks up her fiddle and applies her unique talent with it, songs such as “Angels and Acrobats,” “Rings and Chains” and the western swing-esque “Whispering.”
This album may be a challenge for some, but if you can veer from walking on the safe sidewalk of mainstream popular music and are able to let your mind crawl down into the nooks and cracks outside of the limelight, you might be well rewarded by finding some original Americana music at its best.
- Derek Halsey