Amanda Shires has covered a lot of territory in her short life. At sixteen she was playing fiddle for Tommy Allsup & The Texas Playboys. She moved on to the alternative country band The Thrift Store Cowboys and released three independent albums with them. West Cross Timbers is her second solo effort following 2005’s Being Brave.
Amanda Shires is a country artist at heart. Her music may move toward pop on occasion, but her lyrics and especially her voice are classic country.
In some ways she is a work in progress. Her sound on this release is sparse which puts the emphasis squarely on her lyrics which tell wonderful stories and are filled with excellent imagery. Her words at times overwhelm the music, and while this may have been her intention, I wish the sound could have been fuller in places. Production wise the drums are turned up a little too much on a number of the tracks. The thumping beat takes away from the overall effect of the music.
My only other complaint is she does not play the fiddle or violin enough. She uses it as an accessory instrument instead of putting it at the heart of her sound. She is a wonderful fiddle player to use the country term for the instrument. The tone is pure and the sound is haunting and mournful. From the glimpses found here of her talent on this instrument, I would like to hear some songs or even an album of just her playing the fiddle.
The lead track, “Upon Hearing Violins,” is catchy and upbeat despite the percussion issues. The song is well structured and the fiddle on the break separates the verses nicely. She quickly proves that she is a talented vocalist who can bring her material to life.
A number of very good tracks inhabit this album. “Angels and Acrobats” combines her fiddle and ukulele playing with some subtle steel guitar in support. “Rings and Chains” is a place where a lack of much instrumental backing works well as it is both interesting and unique. “Keep The Dogs From Barkin’” is bound to put a smile on your face. “Whispering” is both catchy and snappy and ends the album on a positive note.
West Cross Timbers is a good effort from Amanda Shires. It is a gentle album that presents American country music at its best. Hopefully it will be a foundation upon which she will build her career.