Amanda Shires – Carrying Lightning (Music Review)

Carrying Lightning cover

Amanda Shires - Carrying Lightning

Though I learned of Amanda Shires through country music fans, it actually took me a while to decide if I would categorize Carrying Lightning that way. Sure, she plays a fiddle (among other instruments), and has a banjo and upright bass in the band, but the arrangements often seem more suited towards folk. Many of the lyrics have a folk-singer’s worldliness (such as the eager sexuality in “Shake the Walls” or the acknowledgment that lovers drift apart in “Lovesick I Remain”), but the settings are pure country (consider the songs titled “Kudzu” and “Bees In the Shed”). The songs all have the honest humanity of great country, but ones like “Ghost Bird” and “She Let Go of Her Kite” obscure it with the metaphors more common to folk. And while I suspect many of her fans are more interested in Dar Williams than Willie Nelson, her voice frequently has a little tremble that I associate with country traditions. In the end, I accepted that this is country. A strict traditionalist might exclude her, but all genres need to evolve over time. And really, the important thing is that this is great music regardless of genre.

I’d say that it’s especially important to think of Shires as part of country’s evolution because she provides an alternative for people not interested in the Hank3-styled outlaw movement. Earnest, beautiful, and vulnerable, the music on Carrying Lightning sets a high standard for anyone who may be inspired by it. The music is slow and building, while the lyrics most of provide the hooks. (“Are you noticing that we’re breathing the same air at the same time?” whispers Shires about the slow, mutual seduction in “Sloe Gin”.) Her most common vocal hook is the tremble mentioned earlier, which is effective and full of personality, though sometimes it seems in danger to being overused.

Shires wears her heart on her sleeve, and is convincing with even the simplest, most clichéd messages. “Kudzu”‘s explanation of love (“and you never really get it till it’s happening to you”) seems too plain to work in theory, but she really sells it. It helps that she doesn’t restrict herself to the safe surface territory that most sentimental songs use. “When You Need A Train It Never Comes” is near-suicidal in its depiction of the narrator post-breakup, but its wish for destruction and a clean transition is universal.

Shires is an incredible new talent: Simple and catchy while intellectually satisfying, she is the only modern country singer who I honestly expect to break through to the mainstream. I certainly hope she does: Whether you call this country, pop, or folk, I would love to be discussing her influence on other musicians a decade from now.

Grade: B+

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